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Wind gusts push Northern California wildfire over enforcement line, forcing evacuations

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FRESNO, California — More than 200 people were ordered from their homes Tuesday when a wildfire jumped a containment line east of California's Napa Valley wine country in one of several blazes burning across the state.

The week-old fire was given a burst of energy by rising temperatures, wind gusts and low humidity, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

A smoke plume was visible for miles.

The flare-up in the rugged, steep terrain of Solano County quickly consumed 150 acres. The fire has charred more than 10 square miles and firefighters had it mostly contained, despite the additional area that burned.

"With the winds picking up, they're challenging us," Berlant said, adding that firefighters have dug a secondary containment line. "We're hoping those lines will hold it where it's at."

Residents of 136 homes were ordered to leave, said Christine Castillo of the Solano County Sheriff's Office.

In the Central California foothills, helicopters and air tankers were attacking another fire burning near the tiny wooded communities of Bass Lake and Cascadel Woods north of Fresno.

Residents remained under orders to be prepared to evacuate because of the fire, which has charred nearly 3 square miles.

A boy acknowledged starting the fire by playing with a lighter to burn pine needles, Madera County District Attorney David Linn said, noting the boy tried to smother the fire with his clothes and his family fought it with water.

"As dry as the conditions are in the Sierra now ... they couldn't stop it," said Linn, declining to identify the boy, who remains at home because of his cooperation and could be charged next week.

In the Sierra Nevada foothills northeast of Sacramento, 50 homes remained evacuated because of a wildfire that ignited Saturday. As many as 1,800 homes were threatened by shifting winds, Berlant said.

Four firefighters were hurt Sunday while battling the wildfire. One had serious, non-life threatening injuries and remains hospitalized.

The firefighter was identified as Matt Aoki, a captain of the Los Padres Hotshots from Los Padres National Forest. Aoki has severe burns on his hands and face. He remained hospitalized at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

The fire grew overnight to more than 3 square miles.

Temperatures throughout Northern California could hit 108 Wednesday.

California has seen more wildfires this year, but less acreage has been burned thanks to favorable weather and more firefighters who can quickly be dispatched to corral flames, fire officials say.

Since Jan. 1, about 5,200 fires have burned on state and federal lands, according to the U.S. Forest Service. That's 10 percent more than last year, but the 74,000 acres burned is 6 percent less.

Spurts of unseasonably rainy weather combined with the availability of hundreds of additional firefighters paid for with emergency drought funding have made a big difference, Berlant said.

So far this year, state firefighters have responded to nearly 3,900 blazes — a 41 percent increase from the same period last year, according to Cal Fire. The fires have burned 28 percent less area than last year.

Cal Fire's map of fire activities showed nine blazes across the state.

PHOTO: Horses accompany their owner down El Modena Ave. as firefighters tend to a nearby grassfire in Elverta, Calif., on Monday, July 27, 2015. (Jose Luis Villegas/The Sacramento Bee via AP)
Horses accompany their owner down El Modena Ave. as firefighters tend to a nearby grassfire in Elverta, Calif., on Monday, July 27, 2015. (Jose Luis Villegas/The Sacramento Bee via AP)

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: A helicopter flies over Willow Creek Canyon as a wildfire continues burning in the Sierra near Bass Lake, Calif., Monday, July 27, 2015. More wildfires have torn across California so far this year compared with the same period of 2014, but firefighters said Monday that efforts to confine and extinguish the latest blazes have been more successful than in the past.  (Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP)
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