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Wildfires rage in west

Firefighters continued Monday to battle a raging wildfire that destroyed 22 homes.

BY PJ HELLER | FRENCH GULF, Calif. | August 16, 2004

Firefighters continued Monday to battle a raging wildfire that destroyed 22 homes and two commercial buildings in this old mining town in northern California and forced residents to flee.

It was one of numerous wildfires burning throughout California and the West that threatened buildings and prompted residents to evacuate their homes.

The fire in French Gulf, about 15 miles northwest of Redding, has burned 9,010 acres and was only 10 percent contained, officials reported. More than 1,900 firefighters were battling the blaze on the ground and from the air, trying to protect another 150 threatened homes, 100 outbuildings and 10 commercial structures. Part of state Highway 299 was closed.

Hot weather and tinder dry conditions were fueling the fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported. It said firefighters were hampered by rattlesnakes and covered mineshafts in the area.

The fire was not expected to be contained until Friday. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

“It's rugged, rugged country,” said Brian Morris of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It’s dry country.”

Two injuries, believed to be minor, were reported in the blaze, which broke out Saturday.

The American Red Cross set up a shelter to house evacuees. About 400 people live in the town.

Some of the crews battling the French fire had been diverted there after fighting another blaze, this one near Belle Vista, Calif. That fire, which destroyed 80 homes and 30 outbuildings, burned more than 10,000 acres. It was expected to be fully contained by Monday night. More than 1,500 firefighters battled the blaze, south of Shasta Lake, that was sparked when a lawn mower struck a rock in dry grass.

Residents who had been evacuated have been allowed to return to their homes.

In central Washington state, a blaze near Dryden forced the evacuation of about 400 homes. The fast-moving fire, which already has burned more than 3,800 acres, was 30 percent contained. Temperatures were in the 90s with low humidity.

“The fire likes those conditions,” said Carol Tocco, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland, Ore. “It makes it burn very hot, very fast.”

The fire was believed to be human caused. No homes were damaged or destroyed. Evacuation orders were issued for residents in the communities of Williams, Jude, Upper Derby, Bjork and Eagle Canyon.

Elsewhere in the state, another fire forced the evacuation Sunday and Monday of about 280 people from remote Holden Village, a Christian retreat near Lake Chelan. The fire, which has consumed more than 47,000 acres, was about 85 percent contained. Voluntary evacuations were also issued for residents in Domke Lake and Lucerne.

More than 500 firefighters were fighting the blaze.

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