Still-recovering California county hit by another big blaze


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Thousands were forced to flee their homes today as major wildfires encroached on a charred area of Northern California still recovering from severe blazes in recent years, sparking concern the state may be in for another destructive series of wildfires this summer.

Severe drought has already forced officials in several western states to close national parks as precautions against wildfires and issue warnings throughout the region to prepare for the worst.

In California, officials said unusually hot weather, high winds and highly flammable vegetation turned brittle by drought helped fuel the fires that began over the weekend, the same conditions that led to the state's deadliest and most destructive fire year in 2017.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Lake County, where the biggest fire was raging about 120 miles north of San Francisco, a rural region particularly hard-hit by fires in recent years. The declaration will enable officials to receive more state resources to fight the fire and for recovery.

Jim Steele, an elected supervisor, said the county is impoverished and its fire-fighting equipment antiquated. He also said the county has just a few roads into and out of the region, which can hinder response time. Steele said the area has also been susceptible to fire for many decades because dense brush and trees in the sparsely populated area, but the severity of the latest blazes is unexpected.

"What's happened with the more warming climate is we get low humidity and higher winds and then when we get a fire that's worse than it's been in those 50 years," Steele said.

The fire that broke out Saturday evening has forced 3,000 residents from their homes and destroyed at least 22 buildings. It is the latest devastating blaze to rip through the isolated and impoverished county of just 65,000 people in the last few years.

In 2015, a series of fires destroyed 2,000 buildings and killed four people.

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