Twin California wildfires destroy homes; thousands evacuated

Valley Fire Adds 40,000 Acres to California Wildfire Season

COBB, Calif. (AP) -- Within 12 hours of igniting, a wildfire burning north of San Francisco had swallowed up more than 60 square miles of land, injured four firefighters and burned highways and buildings, prompting an emergency declaration and forcing thousands to flee.

The fire in Lake County erupted Saturday afternoon and rapidly chewed through brush and trees parched from several years of drought, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. Entire towns as well as residents along a 35-mile stretch of highway were evacuated. Sunday's emergency declaration frees up resources for the blaze.

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Northern California, Middletown wildfires destroy 400 homes Butte
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Twin California wildfires destroy homes; thousands evacuated
Firefighters keep watch as the 'Valley Fire' continues to flare up in the town of Middletown, California on September 15, 2015. Wildfires sweeping across California are threatening the US state's famed Sequoia trees, with firefighters scrambling to protect the national treasures. AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
MIDDLETOWN, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: A fallen sign lies near a long a line of burnt trees by State Route 175 during the Valley Fire on September 13, 2015 in Middletown, California. The fast-moving fire has consumed 40,000 acres and is currently zero percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/ Getty Images)
MIDDLETOWN, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: A playground slide stands undamaged among smoldering rubble during the Valley Fire on September 13, 2015 in Middletown, California. The fast-moving fire has consumed 40,000 acres and is currently zero percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/ Getty Images)
SAN ANDREAS, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: A burned truck and structures are seen at the Butte Fire on September 13, 2015 near San Andreas, California. California governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Amador and Calaveras counties where the 100-square-mile wildfire has burned scores of structures so far and is threatening 6,400 in the historic Gold Country of the Sierra Nevada foothills. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
An abandoned burned out truck remains in a residential neighborhood near Cobb, California on September 15, 2015. According to Cal Fire, the Valley Fire has burned 585 homes and 67,000 acres (27,114 hectares). The Valley Fire and the Butte Fire, that erupted at the weekend killing at least one person, has forced the evacuation of more than 23,000 people. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Burned out remains of the popular nudist destination, Harbin Hot Springs is seen after the Valley fire roared through the area near Middletown, California on September 14, 2015. Firefighters on Monday battled devastating blazes in northern California that have reduced hundreds of homes to smoldering ruins and killed an elderly disabled woman unable to flee the flames. State disaster officials said the fast-moving infernos in northern California had consumed more than 100,000 acres (more than 50,000 hectares), forcing thousands to flee their homes. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Burned out remains of the popular nudist destination Harbin Hot Springs are seen after the Valley fire roared through the area near Middletown, California on September 14, 2015. According to Cal Fire, the fire has exploded to 60,000 acres and burned hundreds of homes. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
MIDDLETOWN, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: Firefighters with the Marin County Fire Department's Tamalpais Fire Crew monitor a backfire as they battle the Valley Fire on September 13, 2015 near Middletown, California. The fast-moving fire has consumed 50,000 acres after growing 40,000 acres in twelve hours and is currently zero percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/ Getty Images)
MIDDLETOWN, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: A home is consumed by the Valley Fire on September 13, 2015 in Middletown, California. The fast-moving fire has consumed 40,000 acres and is currently zero percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/ Getty Images)
MIDDLETOWN, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: The evening sky lit by the Valley Fire is seen on September 13, 2015 in Middletown, California.ÊThe fast-moving fire has consumed 50,000 acres after it grew 40,000 acres in twelve hours and is currently zero percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/ Getty Images)
A firefighter douses flames from a backfire while battling the Butte fire near San Andreas, California on September 12, 2015. Wildfires have spread rapidly through northern California, destroying hundreds of homes, forcing thousands of people to flee and injuring four firefighters. AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN ANDREAS, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: Tall flames rise behind a firefighting inmate hand crew member at the Butte Fire are seen on September 13, 2015 near San Andreas, California. California governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Amador and Calaveras counties where the 100-square-mile wildfire has burned scores of structures so far and is threatening 6,400 in the historic Gold Country of the Sierra Nevada foothills. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
MIDDLETOWN, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: A firefighter with the Marin County Fire Department's Tamalpais Fire Crew ignite a backfire with a driptorch as she battles the Valley Fire on September 13, 2015 near Middletown, California. The fast-moving fire has consumed 50,000 acres after it grew 40,000 acres in twelve hours and is currently zero percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/ Getty Images)
MIDDLETOWN, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: A firefighter with the Marin County Fire Department's Tamalpais Fire Crew ignite a backfire with a driptorch as he battles the Valley Fire on September 13, 2015 near Middletown, California. The fast-moving fire has consumed 50,000 acres after it grew 40,000 acres in twelve hours and is currently zero percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/ Getty Images)
A house is engulfed in flames during the Valley fire in Seigler Springs, California on September 13, 2015. The governor of California declared a state of emergency Sunday as raging wildfires spread in the northern part of the drought-ridden US state, forcing thousands to flee the flames. The town of Middletown, population 1,300, was particularly devastated by the Valley Fire, according to local daily Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, which said the fire grew from 50 acres to 10,000 over just five hours Saturday -- before quadrupling in size overnight. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
A house is engulfed in flames during the Valley fire in Seigler Springs, California on September 13, 2015. The governor of California declared a state of emergency Sunday as raging wildfires spread in the northern part of the drought-ridden US state, forcing thousands to flee the flames. The town of Middletown, population 1,300, was particularly devastated by the Valley Fire, according to local daily Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, which said the fire grew from 50 acres to 10,000 over just five hours Saturday -- before quadrupling in size overnight. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
A firefighter douses flames from a backfire during the Valley fire in Seigler Springs, California on September 13, 2015. The governor of California declared a state of emergency Sunday as raging wildfires spread in the northern part of the drought-ridden US state, forcing thousands to flee the flames. The town of Middletown, population 1,300, was particularly devastated by the Valley Fire, according to local daily Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, which said the fire grew from 50 acres to 10,000 over just five hours Saturday -- before quadrupling in size overnight. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
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The firefighters, all members of a helicopter crew, were airlifted to a hospital burn unit, where they were being treated for second-degree burns and were listed in stable condition, department spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

Gov. Jerry Brown had already declared a state of emergency for a separate 101-square-mile wildfire about 70 miles southeast of Sacramento that has destroyed at least 81 homes and 51 outbuildings and turned the grassy, tree-studded Sierra Nevada foothills an eerie white. Fire officials had earlier counted 86 homes destroyed, but issued the new figure Sunday morning.

Crews by Sunday morning had increased containment on that blaze to 20 percent.

The fire, which broke out on Wednesday was threatening about 6,400 more buildings.

"I lost my business - it's all burned up - my shop, my house, 28 years of living," said Joe Thomas, who lives near the community of Mountain Ranch. "I got to start all over. It's depressing."

Thomas, who runs a tractor dealership and repair business, said he and his wife grabbed papers, his work computer, photos and their four dogs. But they left a goat, five ducks, six rabbits and more than 30 chickens behind.

"I turned the pens open and turned them lose. I just couldn't gather them up," he said. "All we want to do is go home. It's miserable."

Meanwhile, new evacuation orders were issued Saturday for the largest wildfire in the state, threatening to sweep through an ancient grove of Giant Sequoia trees. The fire, sparked by lightning on July 31, has charred 201 square miles, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Firefighters cleared brush around the Grant Grove and set prescribed burns to keep the flames from overrunning it. By Saturday, the backfiring and monitoring efforts appeared to have helped protect the treasured trees, the Fresno Bee reported.

The grove is named for the towering General Grant tree that stands 268 feet tall. There are dozens of Sequoia groves in the Sierra Nevada, and some trees are 3,000 years old.

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