California governor declares state of emergency as wildfires rage

Red Bluff, California Wed Aug 22, 2012 5:53pm EDT

1 of 2. Satellite image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service shows forest fires burning in northern California on August 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/USDA/Forest Service/MODIS/NASA/Handout

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Red Bluff, California (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in three Northern California counties on Wednesday after raging wildfires destroyed 50 buildings and threatened more than 200 others.

Some 3,000 people have been evacuated as the so-called Ponderosa fire burns through more than 24,000 acres of steep, rugged terrain in the rural California counties of Tehama and Shasta, about 125 miles north of state capital Sacramento.

The lightning-sparked blaze was 50 percent contained as of Wednesday afternoon, fire officials said, but 200 homes, 10 commercial properties and 30 outbuildings were still at risk of being consumed by the fire.

Brown also declared a state of emergency in nearby Plumas County, where firefighters were battling a fire nearly double the size of the Ponderosa blaze. Declaring a state of emergency frees up funds to help combat the fires.

The Ponderosa fire is one of dozens burning across drought-parched states in the U.S. West, including a blaze that destroyed dozens of homes this week in Washington state and another that threatened a town in Southern California.

Firefighters were expected on Wednesday to start inspecting the damage from the Ponderosa blaze, which they had surveyed by air on Tuesday.

Efforts to prevent the fire from overrunning the rural towns of Manton and Shingletown have succeeded so far despite high winds and heat, fire officials said, and evacuation orders for Shingletown and the Lake McCumber area were lifted on Wednesday.

But an expanded evacuation warning was issued for areas along Highway 36, including the community of Mineral.

"Firefighters are working aggressively to build approximately 11 miles of line and strengthen existing containment lines," the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on its website.

"As additional resources arrive, firefighters will continue to diligently defend structures, construct containment lines and build bulldozer perimeter lines," it said.

(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)

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