Wildfires keep firefighters busy in state (w/video)

ALTURAS — Thousands of federal, state and local firefighters were feverishly attacking at least six major wildfires in central and far northern California on Saturday, five of which grew rapidly overnight and prompted evacuations of homes, vacation cabins and recreation areas.

The scope and intensity of the blazes, three of them sparked by dry lightning as the state copes with a severe drought, was comparable to the fire activity California doesn't usually see until September, California Department of Forestry and Fire protection Dennis Mathisen said. The fires are burning as far south as the Sierra National Forest, about 70 miles from where another fire sparked evacuations in and around Yosemite National Park earlier in the week, and as far north as the state border, where a blaze that began in southern Oregon had consumed 5.5 square miles and threatened about two dozen homes in California's Siskiyou County.

"When we pop one or two fires at a time that's one thing, but when you get dry lightning strikes that pop up all over the place, that's when things become a challenge," Mathisen said. "If there is a bright side at all it's that these areas are sparsely populated and the types of residences many times are seasonal, cabins and so forth, so the numbers of people affected may not be as high as the number of structures threatened."

One of the most dangerous blazes was burning in Modoc County near the community of Day, where about 150 homes were under a mandatory evacuation order. It started with a lightning strike on Wednesday and had torched nearly 19.5 square miles of brush and timber by Saturday morning, up from 11 square miles a day earlier. It was only 15 percent contained.

Crews also were trying to protect homes from the fire burning in the Sierra National Forest east of the town of Oakhurst, which had consumed 18 square miles by Saturday, up from 13 square miles on Friday morning. About 50 homes in the community of Arnold Meadow were evacuated on Friday night and residents in the Sierra foothills of Madera County were urged to take precautions from thick smoke blanketing the area.

Other fires that had prompted evacuations were in Lassen National Forest, where another lightning-sparked blaze had consumed 28 square miles by Saturday morning, and a separate blaze that started a day later ripped through a wilderness area in a different part of the forest.

So far, no injuries have been reported.

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