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Thousands Of Firefighters Work To Save 1,600 Homes From Forest Fires

August 14, 1990

RED BLUFF, Calif. (AP) _ One raging forest fire threatened about 1,600 homes Monday in northern California and three major blazes remained out of control in Yosemite National Park.

Fourteen major fires and several smaller ones burned across California on Monday. The biggest fire - the Campbell complex in Tehama County - had charred about 114,000 acres, officials said.

But firefighters’ top priority was a smaller Tehama County fire, the 17,500-acre Finley Lake fire east of Red Bluff, which threatened 400 homes in the town of Manton, 200 in Mineral and an additional 1,000 in the general area, officials said.

Loren Newman, a 73-year-old Manton resident, said he hadn’t planned to leave his home. But as firefighters cut a 30-foot wide firebreak across his property Monday, he was reconsidering.

″I usually don’t get too excited about fires, but this one has me hemmed in,″ he said. ″There’s fire to the west, to the south and to the east.″

Elsewhere in the West, smaller fires burned in Oregon, Alaska, Washington, Idaho and Utah.

About 1,200 soldiers from the Army’s 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Wash., shipped out Monday to help fight fires in Oregon, Maj. John Lundberg said. They were to help dig fire lines and relieve fatigued crews battling two big blazes near Burns, Ore.

It is the third summer in a row Fort Lewis troops have been used to battle fires. They were fought fires in Yellowstone National Park in 1988 and the Baker, Ore., area last summer, Lundberg said.

An estimated 1,200 Army soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colo., were expected to arrive in Tuesday in northern California, where a long drought has heightened fire danger.

Firefighting in northern California was hampered by an inversion layer - a layer of cool air holding hot air down - that held in smoke, creating hot and hazy conditions. Airplanes that bomb the fires with a mixture of fire retardant and fertilizer to encourage new growth were unable to fly Sunday or Monday, officials said.

Because of the thick smoke, fire officials had to bring in helicopters with infrared sensors to identify ″hot spots″ and map them for ground crews.

On the Finley Lake fire, firefighters worked Monday to create a two-mile- long defense line in Manton, burning out a swath that hopefully would counter the northbound forest fire and keep it from destroying several homes.

″Manton is our main concern this afternoon. There’s up to 400 homes and 1,000 people in that area,″ said Paul Bertagna, California Department of Forestry spokesman.

The fire also was nearing Lassen National Forest near Mineral and Lassen Volcanic National Park to the north.

Manton residents hadn’t been evacuated by midday but residents were advised to be ready to leave officials said.

Manton resident Sally Beezley decided to leave her home.

″I was really calm until last night,″ she said. ″But when you see the flames, everything changes.

″The tops of the trees were on fire, and it was close enough so you could feel the waves of heat.″

Farther south in the Sierra Nevada range, three major fires still raged Monday in Yosemite National Park, where an estimated 17,000 acres had been charred.

Yosemite has been off-limits to tourists since Friday.

Flames in the park were within two miles of Merced Grove, a stand of giant sequoia trees up to 2,000 years old, and also within two miles of the Badger Pass ski area, the oldest ski resort in California. The sequoias were treated with fire retardant, but their thick bark usually protects them from fire, allowing dthem to reach their advanced ages.

Flames were about 10 miles from landmarks like El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.

Since Aug. 3, more than 200,000 acres of California forest has burned, mostly as the result of 31,108 lightning strikes, forestry officials said. A total of 127 structures had been lost as of Monday, including 42 from the Finley fire, said Dwayne Collier, a National Parks Service spokesman.

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