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Sep 20, 2015 11:49 PM

Northern California wildfire destroys another 162 homes

The Associated Press

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. (AP) California fire officials said Sunday a wildfire north of San Francisco destroyed another 162 homes, raising the number of homes destroyed to 1,050 and making it the third worst wildfire in the state's history.

The tally brought the total number of homes destroyed in two wildfires burning in Northern California the past two weeks to nearly 1,600, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. Those fires killed five people, and on Sunday authorities announced that a body was found near the source of a new wildfire in Monterey County that destroyed or damaged 10 homes.

Firefighters found the man's body inside a charred vehicle after the fire began Saturday near the community of Jamesburg. Investigators were investigating his death as a possible suicide, Monterey County Sheriff's spokesman John Thornburg said.

Farther north, two massive wildfires continue to threaten thousands more homes.

Damage-assessment teams have counted 1,050 homes burned in Lake County, many of them in the town of Middletown, CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

Teams have completed about 80 percent of damage assessment, focusing largely on homes, Berlant said. They have not determined how many additional structures, such as sheds, barns and other outbuildings, were destroyed.

"Our damage assessment team continues to go in and count home by home, structure by structure. But they still have a ways to go before they are finished," Berlant said.

The fire, which killed at least three people and charred 118 square miles was 69 percent contained. About 6,500 homes remained threatened by the fire, which ranks as the third worst fire in California history based on total structures burned. A 1991 fire in the Oakland Hills ranks as California's deadliest fire and its worst in the number of homes destroyed.

Meanwhile, another 545 homes were destroyed by a separate blaze that killed at least two people and that has burned 110 square miles in the Sierra Nevada foothills. That blaze was 72 percent contained Sunday. Even though it continued to threaten thousands of structures, all evacuation orders were lifted.

Amid the destruction and continued fight against the blazes by thousands of firefighters, people have been stepping up to help in an outpouring of compassion for victims.

At Starlet Bridal in Santa Rosa, owner Allison Hargave-Barnard surprised Rachel Lemon, who lost the home she shared with her fiance in the Lake County fire, by covering the cost of her wedding dress and rallying her colleagues in the bridal industry who have offered to donate photography and music services, flowers and a wedding cake, the Sacramento Bee reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/1gDVW4s).

Aria Simpson and her mother, Teresa Fogolini of Bodega Bay, took it upon themselves to help save 18 camels stranded at Sacred Camel Gardens, a spiritual retreat near Middletown, by setting up an online donations site that has collected $15,000 to feed the animals.

During the fire, herdsman Stuart Camps and two others guided the camels from one safe area to another as flames devoured a feed barn, fencing and the landscape around them.

"I can't put it into words," Camps said. "I'm just feeling deep gratitude and thinking of everyone who risked their lives to save them."

Residents of Middletown, the area hardest hit by the massive wildfire in Lake County, were allowed to return home Saturday afternoon. Evacuation orders for other areas in Lake County remained.

The Lake County fire tore through 62 square miles in 12 hours, causing thousands of residents to flee after it ignited a week ago. About 19,000 people were ordered to evacuate.

A weekend of heat had descended on the wildfires after several favorable days, raising fears that major gains could be undone.

That makes it essential that the smoldering remains of the two giant blazes be dealt with as quickly and thoroughly as possible, said Scott Mclean, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.


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