Winds push smoke from Sierra fire toward cities as blaze grows |

Winds push smoke from Sierra fire toward cities as blaze grows

GREENVILLE, Calif. (AP) ” Shifting winds sent smoke from a growing forest fire burning in a remote area of the northeast Sierra Nevada heading back toward the San Joaquin Valley and San Francisco Bay area Sunday, officials said.

The massive smoke plumes that had prompted haze and health warnings in cities hundreds of miles away last week had largely dissipated by Saturday. But gusts late Sunday morning persisted through the afternoon and started pushing flames from the back toward the south and southwest as the Plumas National Forest blaze, or Moonlight fire, topped 62,000 acres, the U.S. Forest Service reported.

Six-to-10 people in the small town of Frank’s Valley, on the fire’s southeast flank, were evacuated late Sunday, said Ron DeHart, a forest service spokesman. In addition, mandatory evacuations remained for 50 to 100 people in the North Arm of Indian Valley and other small communities. Residents of Genesee and Taylorsville were advised but not required to leave their homes as the fire headed back in their direction, officials said.

Two campers at Antelope Lake campground were evacuated Friday, and roads to the campground closed. The fire has destroyed an unoccupied summer home, trailer and small shed since it began Monday, and five firefighters have suffered minor injuries.

The fire remained just 15 percent contained, and more than 2,700 firefighters struggled to dampen the flames and bulldoze fire lines as winds began picking up Sunday, DeHart said. Wind gusts were expected to increase overnight and Monday, he said.

“We’ll be working an aggressive night shift again, and that’s been the case every night since this fire started,” DeHart said. “And there are some tough long days ahead.”

So far, $10.6 million has been spent fighting the Moonlight fire, DeHart said. Eight air tankers and 15 helicopters were dropping water and fire retardant chemicals on the fire. There was no estimate when the fire might be contained, he said.

In Santa Clara County, more than 1,700 firefighters were expected to fully contain a blaze Sunday that had burned more than 47,000 acres in Henry W. Coe State Park south of San Jose, said California Department of Forestry spokesman Guy Martin.

The weeklong blaze has destroyed three cabins and two small structures and injured four firefighters, Martin said.

The blaze was caused by a person who started a fire in a trash barrel, but there was no indication that it had been intentionally set, authorities said.

As smoke spread across much of Northern California, local health officials continued advising people with breathing problems to stay indoors.

Though the Moonlight and other persistent fires continued burning across California, the state’s fire chief said this has been a relatively uneventful year despite early fears that drought conditions might fan a record number of fires.

Acreage burned under the CDF’s jurisdiction is just one-sixth of last year’s total, Director Ruben Grijalva said in a Saturday radio address on behalf of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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