September 5, 2004 in Nation/World

California fires threaten vineyards, homes

Brian Melley Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A 14,000-acre wildfire burned out of control Saturday in Sonoma County’s wine country, as another fire in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada destroyed 11 homes.

The Sonoma County fire, the largest burning in California, raced to within a few miles of vineyards by Saturday afternoon and threatened as many as 200 homes.

“It’s blown up,” said Dana Cole, a division chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “Right now we have no control on the head of the fire.”

Ash from the fire fell at the Sausal Winery in Healdsburg as helicopters did laps over the vineyard, scooping up water from nearby lakes to drop on the advancing flames.

“Jack rabbits were running out of the vineyard and the geese were flying away,” said Sarah Campbell, a saleswoman at the winery. “We were worried that as soon as it came over that ridge we’d have to bail, but it never did.”

The fire started Friday near The Geysers, the world’s largest geothermal power facility, which harnesses steam from the earth to provide electricity to Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Mendocino counties. The cause of the blaze was not immediately known.

The rugged terrain is crossed by major power lines from the Calpine Corp. plant, prompting the threat of blackouts. The plant was partially shut down and some transmission lines operated by Pacific Gas and Electric were not being operated, said David Eisenhauer, a PG&E spokesman.

The utility rerouted electricity from other plants to keep the lights on, Eisenhauer said.

In the Sierra foothills of Calaveras County, another fire sparked by a burning motor home Friday destroyed 11 homes and forced thousands of people to evacuate rural subdivisions, fire officials said.

Evacuees were allowed to return Saturday. The blaze was 65 percent contained.

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