Wildfires In California, Trigger Hundreds Of Evacuations

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Los Angeles:  Hundreds of people have evacuated to escape a wildfire in coastal Southern California and a larger blaze in rural New Mexico as hot weather feeds the flames, raising health concerns in other regions, officials said on Thursday.

Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown told a news conference his deputies had asked occupants of 400 homes and businesses to evacuate structures in areas threatened by flames from the California fire. Campers and horses on ranches have also been forced out, officials said.

The blaze, which ignited on Wednesday in a wilderness area northwest of Santa Barbara, has consumed chaparral and tall grass in the Los Padres National Forest, blackening some 1,200 acres (490 hectares), according to the InciWeb fire information center. About 500 firefighters were trying to hold it from exploding out of control as airplane tankers and helicopters dropped water, officials said.

“There isn’t a lot of marine layer (ocean humidity) so not great conditions for firefighting,” Diane Black, a joint incident command manager, said in a phone interview. Winds drove the so-called Sherpa Fire toward the Pacific coast, leading authorities to evacuate two state beaches and some ranch land, according InciWeb and the Santa Barbara County website.

The blaze also approached the 101 Freeway overnight, forcing authorities to close it until Thursday morning. In New Mexico, the so-called Dog Head Fire that broke out on Wednesday about 6 miles (10 km) northwest of the town of Tajique has forced evacuations and grown to more than 12,000 acres (4,900 hectares). Tajique is around 30 miles (50 km) southeast of Albuquerque.

Governor Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency and activated the state’s National Guard, ordering the unit to be prepared to assist if needed, according to a statement issued by her office.

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