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Northern California wildfire forces evacuation of hundreds of homes

Sandfire640.jpg

July 26, 2014: This photo shows the Sand Fire as it burns approximately 40 miles northeast of Sacramento, California. (Photo courtesy Fox40.com)

Fire officials in northern California said late Saturday that a rapidly spreading blaze has torched over 3,000 acres and forced the evacuation of over 500 homes.

Evacuation orders were expanded to include approximately 265 homes in Amador County. Previous orders had covered about 250 homes about 40 miles east of Sacramento.

Since it broke out at around 5 p.m. Friday, the so-called Sand Fire has destroyed five homes and seven outbuildings. Many vineyards are in the area but the flames were moving away from them, said Lynn Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"The drought is very severe here. All the plants are catching fire and spreading very easily," Tolmachoff said.

Soon after it started, the fire crossed the Cosumnes River into more rugged terrain, quickly spreading to dry, thick brush and woodland terrain near vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley. The region, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, has turned tinder-dry due to an ongoing severe drought. 

The wildfire burned within 200 yards of the Story Winery in Plymouth on Friday. It was closed Saturday but hoped to reopen Sunday.

"We're good," owner Rob Campbell told the Sacramento Bee. "The road's closed coming in, so we're just hanging out making sure there's no hot spots."

"We've got CalFire guys using our tasting room as a lookout point," he said.

All but two or three of the 40 wineries represented by the Amador Vintners Association were open Saturday, and those were affected by road closures, said Shan Trail, an association official in Plymouth.

The 2-square-mile blaze was only 20 percent contained and was throwing off embers that created small spot fires in its path. Pushed by 20 mph wind gusts, it flashed through waist-high grass and torched oaks and pines, Tolmachoff said.

Hundreds of firefighters worked in triple-digit heat, aided by aircraft, including a giant DC-10 tanker.

Investigators are trying to determine whether a burned car found by the riverbed ignited the fire, which has sent up huge plumes of smoke and worsened air quality in the Sacramento area.

Meanwhile, a 500-acre fire that began Saturday threatens homes and cabins in Yosemite National Park. Park spokeswoman Kari Cobb says evacuations have been ordered for about 45 homes in the community of Foresta, and for six homes outside the park.

Blazes also burned in other Western states. The nation's largest wildfire, the 618-square-mile Buzzard Complex in eastern Oregon, was 95 percent contained Saturday as crews also battled other fires in the state.

There was also progress on Washington's largest wildfire, the 390-square-mile Carlton Complex in north-central part of the state, which was almost 60 percent contained. Cooler weather and rain helped firefighters get a handle on the lightning-caused fire, but heat and wind picked up Saturday. Officials increased their estimate of burned homes from 150 to 300 Friday.

In Utah, evacuation orders for 200 homes in Summit County and 10 homes in Utah County were lifted. No homes burned and there were no injuries. One of the fires started early Saturday when two teenagers playing with fireworks ignited dry grass and brush, police said.

Other wildfires burned in Utah, Colorado and other states in the West.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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