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Gusting winds could push deadly California wildfire

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

(Photo)
A Cal Fire tanker drops retardant on a wildfire Monday in east San Diego County. Crews worked against winds gusting up to 30 mph in southeastern San Diego County, where a three-square-mile fire churned slowly through hilly brushlands in a desert area near the U.S.-Mexico border.
(John Gibbins ~ U-T San Diego)
CAMPO, Calif. -- A fire that killed an elderly man who refused to evacuate and burned 20 homes in rural San Diego County was smoldering Tuesday, but gusty afternoon winds could push it back to life, authorities said.

Nearly 1,000 firefighters planned an all-out effort to surround the blaze, which continued to threaten about 25 homes in the rural community of Tierra del Sol near the U.S.-Mexican border, said fire spokesman Andy Menshek. Residents of two other small communities were allowed to return home earlier.

About 80 residents remained under evacuation orders.

"That is the one remaining evacuated area," Menshek said. "That's out highest priority today ... we have propane tanks, downed power lines and a lot of hotspots to mop up."

The fire, which has burned nearly 4 1/2 square miles of hilly brush land since Sunday, was 55 percent contained.

Although no active flame was showing, winds began picking up Tuesday morning and gusts of up to 40 mph could hit in the afternoon, Menshek said.

"If we get one ember over the line, the fire could take off," he said.

On Monday, the body of an elderly man was retrieved from a burned home in Tierra del Sol. Neighbors reported the man missing when they saw his only vehicle parked at the home, authorities said. His identity was not immediately released, but neighbors told U-T San Diego he was 82 and had one leg.

Reverse 911 calls notifying homeowners of the evacuation order were made by the county sheriff's department. Neighbors said the man decided to remain.

"He felt that he was going to be OK if he stayed," sheriff's Lt. Rose Kurupas told the newspaper.

"He chose to stay and that's sad," Menshek said. "That's why we issue these evacuations."

Other blazes in the West remained active, blanketing some communities in eastern Washington state with smoke. The air quality in many Wenatchee and Cashmere areas was deemed either "hazardous" or "unhealthy" by state officials.

Authorities there updated the sizes of two of the state's largest fires after more accurate mapping and burnouts to create fire lines, officials said. The Wenatchee complex of fires was reported at 82 square miles, while the Table Mountain fire had burned nearly 57 square miles.

Crews also gained ground on a 5 1/2-square-mile fire in Montana's Musselshell County, allowing residents to return to about 50 homes southeast of Roundup. That blaze was human-caused and under investigation.


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