Winds spur new wildfires, hurt efforts to control


BANNING, Calif. (AP) — Gusty winds drove a new wildfire toward a Southern California community on Thursday and hampered efforts by hundreds of firefighters battling another foothill blaze that destroyed a house as the region swelters under extreme fire weather, authorities said.

Crews made progress overnight on a 4½-square-mile fire burning in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains north of Banning, but winds returned in the morning, Riverside County fire spokeswoman Jody Hagemann said.

The fire that burned a home on Wednesday was 40 percent contained with only sporadic flames showing, but renewed winds gusting to 40 mph could halt that progress.

"It makes fire conditions unpredictable and more dangerous," Hagemann said.

The blaze was being fought by aircraft and 671 firefighters.

More than 100 miles to the west, a new blaze erupted Thursday along U.S. 101 in the Camarillo area and quickly grew to 100 acres.

Television reports showed a field of flames roiling along the side of the major highway.

The fire was separated only by a ridge from a housing tract around Camarillo Springs Golf Course. No evacuations were immediately called.

The wind pushed flames through tinder-dry brush and sent huge plumes of smoke over a nearby mobile home park and strawberry fields.

Weather forecasts called for red flag conditions of extreme fire danger in canyons, foothills and mountain passes because of the winds, coupled with hot, dry weather.

Several other small fires were reported in widely separated areas near freeways.

The Riverside County fire broke out Wednesday about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. Hundreds of people briefly evacuated homes.

A stand from firefighters came too late for Joe Kiener, 53, who lost the house he had lived in since his mother bought it in the 1970s.

Kiener was home on a lunch break when he stepped outside to check on his barking dog and saw heavy smoke approaching. He took the dog and started to leave just as a deputy arrived to tell him to evacuate, but it wasn't easy.

"When I left I went around the corner and I got engulfed in a big cloud of smoke," said Kiener, who could see so little the deputy had to yell to him how to get out.

He got out safely, but the next time he saw the house was in a cellphone picture sent by his neighbor. The roof was on fire, and he knew it would be destroyed, but he shrugged off the loss.

"My mom passed away a month ago. The day before Easter," Kiener said. "So that was the biggest thing that hurt my heart is losing her. Losing the house is just minimal. We can rebuild."

In Northern California, crews were able to hold the line against two wind-whipped wildfires, but one in Tehama County continued to grow.

The Panther Fire north of the town of Butte Meadows had spread to 1,700 acres with no containment. The fire is burning in a remote area of brush and timber and is not threatening any homes, said state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

A fire in Sonoma County that has burned 125 acres did not grow overnight. Full containment on the Yellow Fire was expected later in the day, Berlant said.

Two smaller fires totaling 165 acres are burning in Glenn and Butte counties. Berlant said crews were also able to hold the line against one of those fires, the 55-acre Cedar Fire in Butte County, but wind was going to be a factor again on Thursday.

"The continued wind throughout much of the north state is going to help fan these fires," he said.