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Crews battle California fire’s explosive growth

September 17, 2014

WEED, California (AP) — Crews on Wednesday battled another fast-moving blaze threatening homes in Northern California, just days after a wildfire tore through a small town in the region.

Hundreds of additional firefighters were dispatched to the fire near the town of Pollock Pines, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of the state capital, Sacramento, bringing the number fighting the blaze to more than 2,500 personnel. That was an increase of about 1,000 from the previous day.

The fire grew by thousands of acres overnight and had burned through nearly 29 square miles (75 square kilometers). It was threatening 500 homes, at least some of which were under mandatory evacuation orders, and was just 5 percent contained.

Meanwhile, further north, crews were building and strengthening containment lines around a fire that tore through the town of Weed near the Oregon border on Monday. The blaze damaged or destroyed more than 150 structures, many of them homes, and also struck a blow at the economic vitals of the struggling timber town, knocking its last wood products mill offline for an undetermined amount of time.

With a maintenance shed reduced to twisted sheet-metal and the main manufacturing facility suffering structural damage, the Roseburg Forest Products veneer mill on the outskirts of Weed was out of commission while workers began assessing the damage, said Kellye Wise, vice president for human resources of the company. The company hoped to have a better idea of when the mill could reopen by next week.

As the fire roared through trees, brush and homes on Monday, the mill had enough warning to send home most of the 60 workers on the day shift and mobilize the mill fire crew, Wise said.

While they fought to save the mill, firebrands blew overhead and ignited blocks of houses downwind.

With 170 workers, the mill is the second largest employer in Weed, a blue-collar town of 3,000 people in the shadow of Mount Shasta, and it dates to 1897, when founder Abner Weed decided to take advantage of its strong winds as a natural drying process for the lumber turned out by his sawmills.

The mill shutdown, however temporary, is one more hit to Weed, which has never recovered from the logging cutbacks of the 1990s. Meant to protect the threatened northern spotted owl and salmon, the drawdown put tens of thousands of people in Siskiyou County out of work, county Supervisor Michael Kobseff said.

More than 4,000 wildfires have burned in California this year.

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Associated Press writers Terry Collins and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco, Raquel Dillon in Weed, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, and Robert Jablon and Daisy Nguyen in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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