Wildfire grows explosively, state of emergency declared in Calif.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday, freeing up funds for the two fires. Brown had also secured federal grants to fight each of them.

Brendan Rice/AP
Smoke and flames loom up over the King Fire in the Eldorado National Forest, seen from US Highway 50 near the town of Pollock Pines, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada west of Lake Tahoe, Sept. 16.

An out-of-control wildfire that was threatening more than 2,000 homes in Northern California showed explosive growth, consuming tens of thousands of additional acres, fire officials said Thursday.

The fire east of Sacramento had burned through 111 square miles, up from 44 square miles on Wednesday when it forced additional evacuations, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It was only 5 percent contained.

Most of the threatened homes were in Pollock Pines, 60 miles east of Sacramento. Hundreds of them were under evacuation orders, but it wasn't immediately clear exactly how many.

Much of the fire growth on Wednesday was to the northwest, away from the town, according to Cal Fire.

On Wednesday night, a total of 2,500 firefighters were now taking on the blaze that was threatening 2,003 homes and another 1,505 smaller structures, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

"It's been an explosive couple of days," CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

"We are faced with a large and dangerous fire," Laurence Crabtree, a U.S. Forest Service supervisor for the Eldorado National Forest, told the Sacramento Bee. "We have had significant losses of public timber land, private timberland and watershed."

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday, freeing up funds for the two fires. Brown had also secured federal grants to fight each of them.

Fire crews might get some help from the weather on Thursday, with the forecast calling for higher humidity and the possibility of rain.

Meanwhile, further north in the town of Weed, where a blaze began Monday and raged across the community, teams of firefighters went house-to-house Wednesday to pin down damage by a wildfire that officials estimated had destroyed 110 homes and damaged another 90.

The new figures were a marked increase from the initial estimate that a total of 150 structures had been destroyed or damaged in the blaze that rapidly swept across the town. Four firefighters lost their homes.

Two churches, a community center and the library also burned to the ground, while an elementary school and the city's last wood-products mill were damaged by flames that had been pushed by 40-mph winds.

Insurance companies worked to find places to live for the people who lost their homes.

The cause of the blaze was under investigation. It was 60 percent contained after burning 375 acres.

Burned neighborhoods remained off-limits, but people have been finding ways in.

The Rev. Bill Hofer, pastor of Weed Berean Church, said power was back on in his home, which was still standing on the edge of the devastation zone, and he was planning to return Wednesday night — despite the evacuation order — to deter vandalism.

"The more people home with the lights on, the better," he said.

At the Roseburg Forest Products veneer mill, workers looked for structural damage to the main manufacturing facility. A maintenance shed was reduced to twisted sheet-metal.

"We were in the middle of its path," said Kellye Wise, vice president of human resources for the company based in Dillard, Oregon. He said employees also lost homes in the blaze.

The temporary closure of the mill came as another blow to a town still suffering from logging cutbacks in the 1990s intended to protect fish and wildlife, Siskiyou County Supervisor Michael Kobseff said.

With 170 workers, the mill is the second-largest employer in Weed, a blue-collar town of 3,000 people in the shadow of Mount Shasta. He said some residents are anxious to rebuild.

"Then there are others still pretty well devastated," he said. "But I think the community is just trying to pull together and get back on track."

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