Army of firefighters battles wave of California blazes
An army of some 20,000 firefighters were
battling 1,400 fires in California Monday, preventing major damage but unable
to make significant headway against the unprecedented early season outbreaks.
Two days after president George W Bush declared a federal state of emergency to help the burning state, California authorities said that they were in a stalemate against the rash of blazes and were bracing for new fires due to unsettled weather conditions.
According to the state fire-fighting agency Cal Fire, 1,459 fires were burning Monday morning - with over 1,537 square kilometers burnt since June 20.
The most serious incidents were in central California's Los Padres National Forest, where a wildfire threatened the scenic tourist enclave of Big Sur and shut down the historic Highway 1 adjacent to the Pacific Ocean.
Some 250 homes are under threat from the fire, but firefighters managed to complete a fire line overnight that should help them keep the fire away from houses. In total over 7,600 residences were under threat, but only 30 residences have so far been lost to the fires.
Offshore breezes meanwhile brought some relief from the blanket of smoke that covered much of the state, dissipating the smoke and allowing officials to call off the "unhealthy air" days that had been in force since last week.
The fires are causing huge concern coming early in the season due to low rainfall over the winter and spring that left brush bone dry at least two months ahead of schedule.
California's worst fire months are usually in September and October, when hot dry inland winds blow across the south of the state. Last year more than 2,000 homes were destroyed by the late summer fires, causing more than 3 billion dollars in damage.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency earlier in the month and called in the National Guard Wednesday to boost firefighting efforts.
He called on people not to buy fireworks for the traditional July 4 US Independence Day celebrations, as it was too dry and too dangerous to set them off, dpa reported.