Northern California fire growing quickly

PLYMOUTH, Calif. – A rapidly spreading wildfire in Northern California forced the evacuation of about 700 homes Saturday as it raced through Sierra Nevada foothills turned tinder-dry by drought.

Evacuation orders were expanded in and around the River Pines Estates community in Amador County. Previous orders had covered about 250 homes about 40 miles east of Sacramento.

Since Friday, the so-called Sand fire has destroyed five homes and seven outbuildings. Many vineyards are in the area but the flames were moving away from them, said Lynn Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The fire broke out around 5 p.m. Friday and crossed the Cosumnes River into more rugged terrain, quickly spreading to dry, thick brush and woodland terrain near vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley.

“The drought is very severe here. All the plants are catching fire and spreading very easily,” Tolmachoff said.

The wildfire burned within 200 yards of the Story Winery in Plymouth on Friday.

All but two or three of the 40 wineries represented by the Amador Vintners Association were open Saturday, and those were affected by road closures, said Shan Trail, an association official in Plymouth.

The 2-square-mile blaze was only 20 percent contained and was throwing off embers that created small spot fires in its path. Pushed by 20 mph wind gusts, it flashed through waist-high grass and torched oaks and pines, Tolmachoff said.

Hundreds of firefighters worked in triple-digit heat, aided by aircraft, including a giant DC-10 tanker.

Investigators are trying to determine whether a burned car found by the riverbed ignited the fire, which has sent up huge plumes of smoke and worsened air quality in the Sacramento area.


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