MANTON, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters across the West on Monday kept battling a summer-long series of raging wildfires, with the latest round sparked mostly by lightning strikes that added to an already torrid mix of dry conditions and gusty winds.
In Northern California, crews struggled to gain control of a rapidly growing wildfire that has destroyed at least seven homes and forced thousands of rural residents to evacuate.
The Ponderosa Fire began Saturday and has consumed more than 23 square miles near three towns about 170 miles north of Sacramento. It was only about 5 percent contained.
It began after the area was hit by a series of lightning strikes, state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.
More than 1,200 firefighters fought the blaze in rugged, densely forested terrain as it threatened at least 3,000 homes and more than 300 other structures near the towns of Manton, Shingletown and Viola.
"These are the largest number of homes we've had threatened so far this year, so we're definitely concerned because this fire is so fast-moving," Berlant said. "The grass, brush and timber up here are so dry, and once the lightning with no rain struck, the flames began to spread quickly."
The fire forced the closure of Highway 44 and other roads and prompted the declaration of a state of emergency for Shasta County. The Red Cross set up an evacuation center in Redding.
"We have air tankers, helicopters and bulldozers and hand crews all available to us," Berlant said. "We're using every resource we have to put out this fire."
John Cluff, 42, told the Redding Record Searchlight that he was forced to flee his home before the evacuations were issued. He later went back for his dog.
"The fire basically chased me out of the property," Cuff said. "All I could see was black smoke and flames."
Another massive wildfire that has burned in Plumas National Forest since July 29 grew larger over the weekend as strong winds pushed the flames past fire lines on its northeast edge.
The blaze, about 120 miles north of Sacramento, has consumed more than 73 square miles and continued to threaten about 900 homes. The fire was 32 percent contained.
Elsewhere in California, a wildfire in Lassen Volcanic National Park was 51 percent contained after consuming more than 43 square miles. Officials expected firefighters would have the blaze contained by Tuesday.
In Mendocino County, a wildfire that started Saturday had consumed about 8 square miles near Covelo. That blaze, which was sparked by lightning, was burning in a remote area of thick timber and rugged terrain, making it difficult for fire crews to access.
The fires in California were among many blazes burning across the West, where wildfire season began much earlier than usual:
-- In Washington state, firefighters hoped to fully contain a wildfire that has burned dozens of homes in Cle Elum, about 75 miles east of Seattle.
Crews expected the weather to cooperate for the most part with firefighting efforts. Gusty winds were in the forecast by late afternoon and evening as rain could be on the way.
The fire broke out a week ago at a bridge construction project and has burned nearly 36 square miles of grass, sagebrush and timber in rural areas.
-- In Idaho, fire managers planned to meet with residents in Pine after an evacuation of Featherville was ordered over the weekend due to smoke from an approaching wildfire.
About 1,100 firefighters battled the Trinity Ridge Fire, which has burned 140 square miles and was threatening hundreds of homes.
Thunderstorms were expected and could cause gusty, shifting winds around the fire.
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