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Over 330 wildfires still rage through California

Latest update : 2008-07-06

Firefighters were hard at work Saturday trying to put out more than 330 wildfires still blazing throughout California. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said more resources were needed to fight a fire season that now lasts all year round.

Firefighters reported progress in their fight against two large wildfires threatening thousands of homes along California's coastline on Saturday.

With more than 330 wildfires listed as active across the state Saturday, attention focused on blazes near the tourist haven of Big Sur and the town of Goleta, near Santa Barbara, 103 miles (165 kilometers) north of Los Angeles.

The Goleta blaze has forced the evacuation of 2,663 homes according to latest figures and jumped to more than 8,350 acres (3,380 hectares) overnight as it ripped through forest and chapparal that has not burnt for 50 years.

An army of 1,186 firefighters were tackling the blaze, which is so far 24 percent contained. Efforts to tame the fire have been hampered by the region's steep slopes and deep ravines.

Incident commander James Smith said weary firecrews faced a crucial day on Saturday as they attempted to tighten their grip on the fires before the return of night-time winds known as "sundowners."

"This is going to be a critical day for us," Smith was quoted by local media as saying at a 6:00 am (1300 GMT) briefing.

"We want to be vigilant, we want to stay persistent and put a good amount of effort in the (east) we can seal it we can focus on the (west) tomorrow."

Later Saturday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the command center overseeing the firefight and told a briefing that the unprecedented firestorm had stretched resources thing.

"I've been driving up and down the state of California going to all the various different fires, and you can imagine, this state is very prepared for fire," Schwarzenegger said.

"But when you wake up one morning and have 500 fires across the state, it was a real shock to me, only to find the next morning there were 1,000 fires, and the next morning 1,400 fires, and then 1,700 fires igniting over 14 days.

"One never has resources for 1,700 fires. Who has the resources for that?" Schwarzenegger said.

Schwarzenegger said the crisis showed there was a need to increase resources for emergency services, saying California now had a year-round fire season.

"Something is happening, clearly. There's more need for resources than every before," Schwarzenegger said. "It's fire season all year round. It's a different ballgame."

The fire besieging the seaside town of Big Sur, 120 miles (193 kilometers) south of San Francisco, has so far claimed 68,712 acres and is only five percent contained. Nearly 2,000 firefighters are deployed against the fire.

State-wide, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) said 332 fires remained active.

A total of 1,783 fires have broken out since June 20, when lightning from dry thunderstorms triggered a series of forest infernos, although the cause of the fire threatening Goleta is not yet known.

Some 526,707 acres have been scorched during the crisis, which has seen 20,260 personnel deployed including 1,641 engines, 331 dozers and 118 helicopters.

CALFIRE said 10,917 residences remained threatened, while 34 homes and 51 other structures had been destroyed.

California is frequently hit by scorching wildfires due to its dry climate, Santa Ana winds and recent housing booms which have seen housing spread rapidly into rural and densely forested areas.

In October, devastating wildfires were among the worst in California history, leaving eight people dead, destroying 2,000 homes, displacing 640,000 people and causing one billion dollars in damage.

Date created : 2008-07-06