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Officials surveying town hit by California wildfire boost estimate of damage, destruction

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WEED, California — Teams of firefighters went house-to-house on Wednesday to pin down damage done by a wildfire that officials estimated had destroyed 110 homes and damaged another 90 when flames swept through the small Northern California town of Weed.

The figures marked a big increase from the initial estimate that 150 structures had been burned in the blaze that began Monday. Four firefighters lost their homes.

Elsewhere, a wildfire east of Sacramento kept growing and about 1,000 additional firefighters streamed into the area to bring it under control.

In Weed, two churches, a community center and the library also burned to the ground, while an elementary school and the city's last wood products mill were damaged by flames that had been pushed by 40 mph winds.

On Wednesday, firefighters braced for more wind as they battled the 375-acre fire, and insurance companies worked to find places to live for the people who lost their homes.

The cause of the blaze was under investigation.

Burned neighborhoods remained off-limits, but people have been finding ways in since the fire started.

The Rev. Bill Hofer, pastor of Weed Berean Church, said power was back on in his home, which was still standing on the edge of the devastation zone, and he was planning to return Wednesday night — despite the evacuation order — to deter vandalism.

"The more people home with the lights on, the better," he said.

At the Roseburg Forest Products veneer mill, workers looked for structural damage to the main manufacturing facility. A maintenance shed was reduced to twisted sheet-metal.

PHOTO: The burned remains of a local library and a Head Start center destroyed by a fire sit in Weed, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. In just a few hours Monday, wind-driven flames destroyed or damaged roughly 100 homes, the saw mill and a church. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
The burned remains of a local library and a Head Start center destroyed by a fire sit in Weed, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. In just a few hours Monday, wind-driven flames destroyed or damaged roughly 100 homes, the saw mill and a church. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

"We were in the middle of its path," said Kellye Wise, vice president of human resources for the company based in Dillard, Oregon. He said employees also lost homes in the blaze.

In Pollock Pines, 60 miles east of Sacramento, more than 2,500 firefighters battled the King fire, which grew by thousands of acres overnight and had burned through nearly 29 square miles.

It was threatening 500 homes, with some under mandatory evacuation orders, and was just 5 percent contained.

"It's burning in steep, dense terrain with heavy timber that's posing quite a challenge," said Alyssa Smith, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

In Weed, the temporary closure of the mill came as another blow to a town still suffering from logging cutbacks in the 1990s intended to protect fish and wildlife, said Siskiyou County Supervisor Michael Kobseff.

With 170 workers, the mill is the second largest employer in Weed, a blue-collar town of 3,000 people in the shadow of Mount Shasta. He said some residents are anxious to rebuild.

'Then there are others still pretty well devastated," he said. "But I think the community is just trying to pull together and get back on track."

Near Yosemite National Park, a 320-acre fire that damaged or destroyed 71 structures, including 37 homes, around Oakhurst was 60 percent contained.

More than 4,000 wildfires have burned in California this year.


Associated Press writers Terry Collins and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco, Raquel Dillon in Weed, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, and Robert Jablon and Daisy Nguyen in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Video:
PHOTO: Three wildfires in separate parts of California have damaged or destroyed scores of homes and forced hundreds of people to evacuate. (Sept. 16)
Three wildfires in separate parts of California have damaged or destroyed scores of homes and forced hundreds of people to evacuate. (Sept. 16) PHOTO: Stunned residents of Weed, California assessed the damage of their northern California town Tuesday, after a wildfire destroyed or damaged 100 homes, the saw mill and two churches. (Sept. 16)
Stunned residents of Weed, California assessed the damage of their northern California town Tuesday, after a wildfire destroyed or damaged 100 homes, the saw mill and two churches. (Sept. 16)
Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: In this Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014 photo, smoke and flames loom up over the King Fire in the Eldorado National Forest, seen from U.S. Highway 50 near the town of Pollock Pines, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada west of Lake Tahoe. The flames later jumped Highway 50, necessitating its closure. Crews on Wednesday battled another fast-moving blaze threatening homes in Northern California, just days after a wildfire tore through a small town in the region. Hundreds of additional firefighters were dispatched to the fire near the town of Pollock Pines, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of the state capital, Sacramento, bringing the number fighting the blaze to more than 2,500 personnel. That was an increase of about 1,000 from the previous day. (AP Photo/Brendan Rice) MANDATORY CREDIT
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