Schwarzenegger sends 2,000 more troops to fire lines
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
ordered 2,000 more National Guard troops to the fire lines Friday as the first
fatality of the three weeks of wildfires was discovered.
The remains of the unidentified person were found in a house destroyed when the Gap Fire swept through the town of Concow Wednesday, said police in the rural hamlet, some 150 kilometers north of the state capital, Sacramento. The fire destroyed 50 homes.
In total, the fires have burned over 3,000 square kilometers and destroyed about 100 homes since they were ignited by a barrage of dry lightning storms three weeks ago.
Over 20,000 exhausted firefighters have managed to contain 1,450 of the fires, but are still battling 322 large fires, mostly in the north of the state.
Schwarzenegger said he was "ordering 2,000 additional California National Guard personnel" to augment firefighting crews and help give them some a well-earned rest. "We already have 400 guard members on the front lines, and once these new troops are trained and certified, they will be ready to pitch in at a moment's notice throughout the fire season."
Firefighters from around the country have poured in to help California. More than 130 firefighters from Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand are also on their way as are teams from Greece, where the US sent crews to help fight huge fires last year.
Schwarzenegger's order came a day after he asked for more federal resources, saying that the "unprecedented wildfires... have stretched our state's firefighting resources to their limit and placed thousands of Californians in immediate danger."
Some 3,000 firefighters were concentrated on the Gap Fire - the state's top priority blaze - which still threatened over 1,000 houses in the town of Paradise. The fire was 50 per cent contained Friday. Over 14,000 people were evacuated.
Elsewhere lower temperatures helped firefighters beat back other blazes. The Basin Complex Fire threatening the scenic coastal town of Big Sur was at 41 per cent containment after burning 3,800 hectares. The Gap Fire north of Santa Barbara burned 43,700 hectares and was at 75 per cent containment.
The massive fires came after California experienced its driest spring since 1894, and accelerated the normal fire season by some two months. Traditionally the worst months for wildfires in California are in September and October when hot Santa Ana winds blow from the desert across Southern California, dpa reported.