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S.B. County fire started by pot growers

August 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Strong winds are fanning the flames of wildfires burning in Central and Northern California. One fire broke out a week ago in the Los Padres National Forest, east of Santa Maria. On Saturday the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department said the fire was started by a camp fire set by marijuana growers, part of a drug operation run by Mexican nationals.

The fire has charred nearly 131 square miles and is threatening more than 230 homes. It is about 25 percent contained.

There's also a fire burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains, called the Lockheed Fire, that has charred nearly 8 square miles.

Officials in Santa Cruz County have declared a state of emergency, and mandatory evacuations are in effect for 2,400 residents.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the front lines on Saturday, on day after returning to the state from attending the funeral of his mother-in-law, Eunice Shriver.

The fire, which broke out Wednesday about 10 miles north of Santa Cruz, is 40 percent contained on Saturday morning.

No major damage to homes has been reported so far.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

In Yuba County north of Sacramento, a wildfire covering more than 1000 acres Friday destroyed two homes, forced the evacuation of about 120 residences and knocked out power in the Sierra foothills town of Dobbins, according to CalFire spokeswoman Joann Cartoscelli.

More than 400 firefighters had contained about 35 percent of the fire - about double what was contained the night before - and were expected to make a decision Saturday afternoon on whether some residents could return to their homes, Cartoscelli said.

Crews also were trying to prevent the fire from spreading to the Colgate Powerhouse, the oldest powerhouse in the state. It provides electricity to the Dobbins area.

In Alameda County, more than 300 firefighters were struggling to control a wind-driven grass fire that had grown to about 23 square miles near Tracy, according to a CalFire report. The Corral Fire was threatening one home and was moving toward the juncture of Interstate 5 and Interstate 580, where officials worried it could affect visibility and traffic. It was about 20 percent contained.

In far northern California, Trinity County District Attorney Michael Harper has charged 60-year-old Brenda Eitzen of Los Molinos with two felonies and two misdemeanors alleging she negligently sparked a blaze by throwing away a lit cigarette Wednesday. The charges could bring a maximum four-year prison term. The Coffin Fire was expected to be contained later Saturday.

To the east, 10 rural homes remained evacuated as wind spread a fire in steep terrain near Burney. Firefighters had contained about 85 percent of the nearly 11-square-mile blaze about 200 miles north of Sacramento.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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