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Latest update : 2008-07-13

More than 300 fires blazed across the state of California, "unprecedented in size and number". Australia, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand will send help to tackle the wildfires, which have killed one and scorched a record amount of land.

Fire-ravaged California is awaiting the arrival of foreign firefighters from as far away as Australia to help battle more than 300 blazes still raging across the western US state, officials said Saturday.
"Additional firefighting resources (personnel and equipment) are expected to arrive shortly from Australia, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand" to help hold the line against relentless wildfires that have claimed the life of one person and scorched a record amount of land, said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Calfire).
According to Saturday estimates, 322 fires are still active, with 1,459 contained out of a peak number of 1,781 blazes, but authorities said the highest "red-flag" warning remained in effect through Sunday in northern California on account of gusty winds and low humidity.
"Weather conditions have been much more favorable," said Captain Julie Hutchinson of Calfire.
"But we still have a few days to go before we have a comfort level that we have the whole fire under control."
The raging fires claimed their first fatality Friday, when sheriff's officials in Butte County discovered the burned body of a person inside a home gutted by flames in Concow near the town of Paradise, some 90 miles (144 kilometers) north of Sacramento.
News of the death came as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered an extra 2,000 members of the National Guard to be deployed, bringing to 20,274 the number of people battling the blazes.
Firefighting efforts focused on the blaze near Paradise. The fire has destroyed 50 residences and is threatening 3,800 homes in the area, where 3,100 firefighters are deployed and 14,000 people were ordered to evacuate, Calfire said.
Twenty-five people were injured by the Butte County blaze that has burned more than 49,500 acres (20,000 hectares), Hutchinson said.
Earlier, Federal Emergency Management Agency official Glen Cannon told a news conference the state's firefighting resources had been "exhausted" by the sheer scale of the fires, which were "unprecedented in size and number."
A wave of infernos erupted across California on June 20, when lightning from dry thunderstorms ignited tinder-dry forest and parkland.
Officials reported progress against two other fires that have been threatening populated areas near Santa Barbara, 103 miles (165 kilometers) north of Los Angeles, and Big Sur, a coastal tourist haven 120 miles (193 kilometers) south of San Francisco.
So far some 801,726 acres (324,000 hectares) have been consumed by flames, making the current crisis the largest in terms of size in Californian history, although a relatively small number of homes -- 100 -- have been razed.
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.
Wildfires in California last October left eight people dead, destroyed 2,000 homes and caused two billion dollars damage.

Date created : 2008-07-13