July 12, 2008 / 3:06 AM / 9 years ago

Body found in fire-hit California community

<p>The California wildfires, with smoke drifting out to the Pacific Ocean (L), are seen in this NASA satellite image released July 9, 2008. REUTERS/NASA/Handout</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - One person was found dead in a burned-out house in northern California on Friday after one of the wildfires ravaging the state swept through a woodland community, local police said.

The burned body was found as fire officials moved into the small community of Concow three days after fire burned at least 50 homes in the rural area.

“We are saddened by the loss of one of our community members but hope that providing this information will encourage people in evacuation areas to heed warnings,” the Butte County Sheriff’s office said in a statement confirming the discovery of a body.

In Concow and the nearby town of Paradise, about 86 miles

north of Sacramento, more than 10,000 people remained under evacuation orders on Friday as heavy smoke and thick fog hampered efforts to bring the blaze under control.

“The fire is like a sleeping giant. There is no estimate for its containment,” said Yvette Streeter, Paradise town spokeswoman.

“It is a wind-driven fire and it is very dangerous for firefighters because of the steep terrain. In a lot of areas, the firefighters can’t see the fire because of the heavy smoke and clouds,” Streeter said.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called up an extra 2,000 National Guard troops to support firefighting efforts in the state where some 300 wildfires are still burning after lightning storms last month.

In Butte County, home to Concow and Paradise, fires have destroyed 50 homes and blackened 48,000 acres (19,000 hectares). A further 3,800 homes are threatened.

About 20,000 firefighters are battling blazes in California that have so far burned 753,000 acres or more than 1,000 square miles, U.S. officials said in a conference call organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

More than 130 firefighters from Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand were already in California or on their way.

CONFLICTING ADVISORIES

There were no details on the identity or gender of the victim in Concow. But resident Tom Tyree told ABC7 television news he believed the person was his neighbor, who may have stayed in his home in the confusion over conflicting evacuation advisories.

“I believe he didn’t feel like (the fire) was that much of a threat because people had been crying wolf,” Tyree said.

Tyree, whose own house was destroyed, said he came near to death himself. “The heat was very intense. I jumped in the horse trough outside my neighbor’s house. The water was green but I saved my life.”

In Washington state, a wildfire in a wooded suburb of Spokane forced 200 people out of their homes and destroyed 13 houses, fire officials said on Friday. No injuries were reported.

In central California, fire crews appeared to have gained the upper hand on two blazes burning for more than two weeks in the scenic Big Sur and Santa Barbara areas.

Most mandatory evacuations have been lifted but in the coastal Big Sur area, 26 homes and 31 other buildings were destroyed and in Santa Barbara County four outbuildings were lost.

Most of the fires were sparked by mass lightning strikes during hot, dry weather on June 21. At one point more than 1,700 fires were burning in central and northern California, most of them in remote canyons.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles, Daisuke Wakabayashi in Seattle and Randall Mikkelsen in Washington; Editing by Philip Barbara

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