As an expanding wildfire in Northern California kept nearly 3,000 people from their homes, teams sought to find out how many structured had already been lost to the huge blaze, authorities said.
While officials confirmed that several structures have been damaged or destroyed in the King Fire, dangerous conditions have so far prevented them from determining an exact number or how many of them were homes, fire spokesman Mike McMillian said.
The fire some 60 miles east of Sacramento grew to more than 128 square miles Saturday, and gathering thunderstorms could either help or harm the firefight with moisture or wind, authorities said.
The blaze began one week ago, and a man accused of starting the blaze is being held on $10 million bail. It is just 10 percent contained.
More than 5,000 firefighters — from as far as Florida and Alaska — are helping California crews battle the blaze that has not only consumed grass and brush, but swaths of extremely dry tall timber.
“That’s what makes it difficult for a direct attack,” McMillian said. “The main fuel that is burning is the tall timber. We’re making some progress, but it is slow going in some areas as we’re trying to construct more contingency and control lines.”
About 100 evacuees have been allowed to return home, but some 2,700 remain under evacuation orders, Cal Fire said in a statement.
Also of concern are possible wind gusts of up to 30 mph that could push the fire, which has spread from the north to the south, state fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said.
“That would open up a whole new area for it to burn in,” Tolmachoff said.
The fire has spread to the Tahoe National Forest northwest of Lake Tahoe, McMillian said. Also, the fire is threatening a key University of California, Berkeley research station that his home to scores of experiments on trees, plants and other wildlife.
Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, pleaded not guilty to an arson charge Friday in El Dorado County Superior Court.
Authorities have not said what evidence they have linking Huntsman to the fire, by far one of the largest of about a dozen fires burning statewide.
Meanwhile, a wildfire in the town of Weed near the Oregon border was fully contained Saturday after burning 479 acres and destroying 143 homes. Another wildfire that destroyed 37 homes near Yosemite National Park was 93 percent contained.
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