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Calif. fire consumes 64 homes

Lawn mower sparks huge blaze

SHASTA LAKE, Calif. -- A wildfire destroyed at least 64 homes in a subdivision near Shasta Lake and forced hundreds of people to flee, officials said yesterday.

The blaze, started by sparks from a lawn mower, has scorched 3,000 acres, said Kevin Colburn, spokesman for the state forestry department. The fire was 40 percent contained, but a shift in the wind overnight pushed the fire southward, he said.

The 64 homes were in a subdivision just south of Lake Shasta and east of Redding, said Jim Sweet, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

More than 300 people were evacuated Wednesday and a shelter was set up at a nearby school. Additional evacuations were ordered early yesterday from the vast area threatened by the fire, but the size of that evacuation was not available. Five people suffered minor injuries.

Alphonso and Shelley Barrera were forced to leave their new home so quickly they left their dog behind.

"The flames were about 50 feet high; they were coming through the ravine," Alphonso Barrera said.

The fire spread from 100 acres to 800 acres in less than four hours Wednesday, branching toward the Silverthorn Resort on the southeast end of Lake Shasta.

Sue Collins, Silverthorn's manager, said fire officials evacuated about 150 people from the area near the marina.

The resort, which includes cabins, a small restaurant, and 54 houseboats, had a view of the flames, Collins said.

"It was real close," she said. "We are out of danger now, but there's always a possibility that the wind will change again."

Additional firefighters arrived overnight, bringing the number on scene to almost 1,200, Colburn said. In addition, air tankers and helicopters were back on scene after daybreak.

Officials cited the lawn mower operator, and the person might be held responsible for the costs of suppressing the fire, Colburn said.

In 1999, the area was hit by a 26,200-acre fire that destroyed 174 homes and was one of the state's worst. Shasta Lake is in north-central California.

In north-central Washington, a helicopter pilot was killed while ferrying supplies to firefighters in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The crash was under investigation.

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