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More than 2,000 homes threatened by Northern California wildfire; new damages emerge from town

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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 in the small town of Weed while another Northern California blaze east of Sacramento was threatening more than 2,000 homes as it burned out of control, officials said.

The new figures from Weed brought a marked increase from the initial estimate that a total of 150 structures had been destroyed or damaged in the blaze that began Monday and rapidly swept across the town. Four firefighters lost their homes.

In the fire east of Sacramento, a total of 2,500 firefighters were now taking on the blaze that was threatening 2,003 homes and another 1,505 smaller structures, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

"It's been an explosive couple of days," CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

The fire has burned nearly 44 square miles of trees and brush and is just 5 percent contained.

"We are faced with a large and dangerous fire," Laurence Crabtree, a U.S. Forest Service supervisor for the Eldorado National Forest, told the Sacramento Bee. "We have had significant losses of public timber land, private timberland and watershed."

Most of the threatened homes were in Pollock Pines, 60 miles east of Sacramento. Hundreds of them are under evacuation orders, but it wasn't immediately clear exactly how many.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday, freeing up funds for the two fires. Brown had also secured federal grants to fight each of them.

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. It was 60 percent contained.

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)

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.

"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.

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, Siskiyou County Supervisor Michael Kobseff said.

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 70 percent contained and all remaining evacuations were canceled.

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


Associated Press writers Terry Collins and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, and Andrew Dalton 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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