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Firefighters Watching Winds as Flames Threaten Homes

September 21, 1988

VACAVILLE, Calif. (AP) _ Firefighters used a 20-foot-wide blackened dirt barrier to keep a 4-day-old arson fire from advancing on homes near a road outside city limits, despite erratic winds Tuesday.

Firefighters ordered the evacuation of 500 people along a 10-mile stretch of Pleasants Valley Road, just west of city limits, fearing that afternoon winds could fan the blaze toward scattered homes near the road. The residents were allowed to return to their homes by Tuesday night.

″The backfire operation was pretty darn successful. The wind has cooperated,″ said Kirk Landuyt, fire camp spokesman for the California Department of Forestry.

The Miller fire, named for the canyon in which it began, has burned 22,000 acres since it started Saturday. Seven homes were destroyed Sunday. It is one of two major California blazes that have destroyed 31 homes and about 30,000 acres of wildland, brush and timber since the weekend.

Gov. George Deukmejian on Tuesday proclaimed states of emergency for Shasta and Solano counties, the first step in making state and federal aid available to victims of the wildfires.

Elsewhere across the West, however, the situation was improved as the worst summer for fires in three decades wound to a close. In all, nearly 70,000 fires have been tallied, blackening more than 4.1 million acres, about half of them in Alaska.

″I think fire season is just about over here,″ spokeswoman Madelyn Kempf said Tuesday as crews broke camp and began departing from the 34,500-acre Red Bench fire in Montana’s Glacier National Park. It rained ″almost all last night,″ she said. Some 200 firefighters also left Oregon’s Willamette National Forest on Tuesday, although others remained behind to finish firefighting efforts there.

In Yellowstone National Park, ″things are very calm,″ said spokeswoman Marsha Karle. Officials Monday released 1,000 soldiers who had spent more than 30 days battling flames that blackened nearly half the 2.2 million-acre park.

Temperatures in the park reached only the 40s Tuesday, but forecasts called for 60s and 70s later by Friday. Fire behavioralist Bruce Freet said just two days of dry weather could spell a return to the active burning seen two weeks ago.

Outside Vacaville, Bill Morgan watched as firefighters burned brush around his $675,000 Pleasants Valley Road home as part of their attempt to stop the fire at the road.

″We just moved in. What a heck of a housewarming,″ said Morgan, 42.

″I hope they catch the sucker that started this, put him in jail for a hundred years and throw away the key,″ said Fred Shaw, 18, another Pleasants Valley Road resident.

John Ferreira, a captain with the California Department of Forestry, said firefighters were optimistic that the blaze wouldn’t jump the road, but said afternoon winds could push the fire to the homes west of the road. The fire was 50 percent contained, or surrounded, at midday Tuesday.

″If today goes well for us, we should have 100 percent containment Thursday,″ Ferreira said.

The fire Monday came to within one half-mile of the Vacaville city limits, but did not threaten the populated area of the city of 51,000 45 miles northeast of San Francisco.

The 7,800-acre Fern fire near Redding, 220 miles north of San Francisco, was 75 percent contained Tuesday morning, but winds were hampering firefighters there, too.

″I’m looking at the flag and it’s standing straight out,″ said forestry department spokesman Richard Just.

Six people have been injured in the Fern fire, including a man listed in critical condition after a tree fell on him when he was clearing burned timber.

The fire also destroyed 24 residences, Just said. Earlier reports put the number of homes destroyed at seven, but officials said Tuesday that a recount showed other homes, chiefly mobile homes, had also burned Sunday or Monday.

The Fern fire started when someone shot out an insulator from a power line about 20 miles east of Redding. Ferreira said the Miller fire has been determined to be arson because all other causes were eliminated and truck tire tracks were found near where the fire started Saturday. There are no suspects.

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