Western wildfires force evacuations, firefighter killed

Mon Aug 13, 2012 10:56pm EDT
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By Ronnie Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Hundreds of firefighters battled a pair of wildfires that burned out of control in Northern California for a second day on Monday, threatening a clothing-optional resort and forcing the evacuation of some 500 homes.

Meanwhile, authorities said a U.S. Forest Service firefighter was killed in Idaho while battling a blaze there.

In California, the Wye Fire and the Walker Fire had charred a total of 5,000 acres by Monday evening in Lake County, a tourist area some two hours north of San Francisco, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The flames forced the closure of a portion of Highway 20, a major road that runs around Clear Lake, a popular summer destination.

It also prompted authorities to order the evacuation of 480 homes and at least several ranches in the Spring Valley area, Berlant said, and threatened nearby Wilbur Hot Springs, a resort that offers clothing-optional bathing in mineral water.

The resort closed on Sunday for 12 days of maintenance and it was not clear if anyone had been forced to flee. The resort could not be reached for comment on Monday.

"We haven't had rain in months, so the grass and the brush were incredibly dry. We had triple-digit temperatures, which create the perfect burning conditions for a wildfire," Berlant said.