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Wildfires blacken California's golden hills, destroy homes and force hundreds of evacuations

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LOWER LAKE, California — Wildfires blackening the golden hills of California grew deadly Friday, killing a firefighter on the far northern end of the state while triggering the evacuations of hundreds of people elsewhere.

The flames, which consumed a handful of homes and threatened hundreds of other structures, prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for all of California on Friday.

In the Modoc National Forest, a firefighter from South Dakota was killed battling a blaze that broke out about a hundred miles south of the Oregon border on Thursday afternoon. It had quickly grown to 800 acres by Friday night.

The U.S. Forest Service said David Ruhl, an engine captain from South Dakota's Black Hills National Forest who had been working in California since June, died sometime Thursday. His body wasn't recovered until Friday, and officials didn't immediately say how he died.

In the Lower Lake area north of San Francisco, firefighters had to wade through thick smoke and flying embers to turn loose horses, goats and other livestock in rural neighborhoods as their owners fled to safety. The fast-moving fire had burned three homes by Friday and was threatening 450 other structures. Only 5 percent contained, it had spread across 28 square miles and was growing quickly.

It is just one of 18 large fires, most burning in the scorched northern half of the state, and California's incessant drought is making matters worse.

"They only need a little wind to allow them to burn at an explosive rate," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection.

Crews hope for cooler weather this weekend but fear dry thunderstorms will bring more lightning, which has already sparked dozens of small fires, many along the Mendocino Coast.

Brown said the declaration would help speed up help for thousands of firefighters working to corral the blazes. As part of the order, he activated the California National Guard to help with disaster recovery.

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BURNING HILLS

The fast-spreading wildfire near Lower Lake north of San Francisco has torched a third home and is threatening more than 450 structures.

At least 650 residents have been evacuated from their homes as the blaze raged in hills covered in dense brush and oak trees and dotted with ranch homes. It has charred 28 square miles near Lower Lake, south of Clear Lake, a popular summer recreation spot.

It was only 5 percent contained Friday as it moved southwest toward Lower Lake and Clear Lake.

Resident Julie Flannery said she saw the fire behind her house, so she gathered some valuables and sought a safer place, leaving behind two horses and a mule.

Returning on Friday, the animals were gone and the stable doors open, and Flannery said she believes fire crews removed them.

"The rest of this is just material stuff," she said. "The animals and the family is the most important."


FIRE LINES HOLDING

Crews battling a fire east of Napa Valley held their ground Friday, more than a week after it started.

The blaze has charred more than 12 square miles in Solano County. The fire is about 45 miles east of Napa's wine county, and vineyards are not threatened.

At least 136 structures are threatened, but evacuation orders have been lifted. It mostly contained, and crews are expecting to have it fully corralled by Monday.


FOOTHILLS FIRES

A woman was arrested in connection with a small fire near Groveland, a stop-off point for travelers headed to Yosemite National Park.

The 200-acre fire, about 20 miles from the park's entrance, was 45 percent contained Friday. About two dozen homes are threatened and voluntary evacuations are in place.

Lisa Ann Vilmur was arrested Thursday night for recklessly causing a fire and jailed on $100,000 bail. It was not known Friday if she has an attorney.

In a separate foothills blaze northeast of Sacramento, evacuation orders have been lifted for residents of 50 homes. The fire, which ignited Saturday, burned through more than 3 1/2 square miles and is almost fully contained.


BASS LAKE BLAZE

Residents of 200 homes in the central California community of Cascadel Woods were ordered to evacuate Thursday.

A wildfire burning near Bass Lake for several days spread to more than 6 square miles and is partially contained.

Authorities say a boy acknowledged starting the fire by playing with a lighter to burn pine needles in the dry Sierra Nevada. They say the boy faces criminal charges but is not in custody because he and his family are cooperating.


MODOC NATIONAL FOREST FIRE

Engine Captain David Ruhl of South Dakota was killed battling a fire that broke out Thursday in the Modoc National Forest about 100 miles south of Oregon

The firefighter had vanished Thursday and his body wasn't found until Friday. U.S. Forest Service officials didn't immediately reveal the cause of death.

Ruhl, who was assigned to a Black Hills National Forest firefighting team, had been helping California firefighters since June.

The fire broke out Thursday afternoon southeast of Lava Camp and rapidly grew to consume 800 acres. No containment figure was given Friday night.

PHOTO: A wall of flames lurches over a ridge as a resident of Morgan Valley Road near Lower Lake, Calif., prepares to evacuate because of the Rock Fire, Wednesday evening July 29, 2015. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
A wall of flames lurches over a ridge as a resident of Morgan Valley Road near Lower Lake, Calif., prepares to evacuate because of the Rock Fire, Wednesday evening July 29, 2015. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

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Video:
PHOTO: A series of wildfires blackened the golden hills of California on Friday, egged on by bone-dry vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and gusting winds. (July 31)
A series of wildfires blackened the golden hills of California on Friday, egged on by bone-dry vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and gusting winds. (July 31) PHOTO: Crews are battling several tough wildfires across Northern and Central California. Hundreds of evacuations have been ordered and dozens of structures are threatened. (July 30)
Crews are battling several tough wildfires across Northern and Central California. Hundreds of evacuations have been ordered and dozens of structures are threatened. (July 30)
Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: Goats run from a pen after being released by Cal Fire engineer Johnny Miller at a property off of Morgan Valley Road near Lower Lake, Calif., Friday, July 31, 2015. The golden hills of California were being blackened Friday by a series of wildfires egged on by bone-dry vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and gusting winds. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
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