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Firefighters mass to protect Big Sur

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Firefighters bolstered their defenses today against an expanding wildfire that threatened coastal homes in the storied tourist town of Big Sur while bracing for fresh lightning strikes that could ignite new fires across Northern California.

The blazes prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today to request that President Bush declare a state of emergency in the region.

Nearly 1,100 fires were burning just in the region from San Jose to the Oregon border, said Jason Kirchner, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. Those are in addition to the two gigantic blazes that have charred some 134 square miles in the Los Padres National Forest.

The fire closest to the legendary cliffs and funky getaways of Big Sur was about a mile from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in the heart of the region, said Curtis Vincent, a spokesman for the Los Padres National Forest.

Thousands of residents remained evacuated from their homes as the blazes raged for a seventh day since a freak barrage of thunderstorms rolled across the region last weekend.

Areas of Butte, Shasta and Trinity counties still were under evacuation orders, and authorities were suggesting that residents leave their homes in fire-threatened spots in Lassen, Modoc, Mendocino, Trinity and Shasta counties.

A half-dozen state highways in those counties were closed, hindering travel as the summer vacation season kicks in. Authorities said property damage had not been widespread. In the last week, 18 residences, one commercial building and 19 other structures have been lost, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

A blanket of smoke continued to plague the Central Valley, with air quality readings in Sacramento topping out just short of the "very unhealthful" range.

In some spots, the smoke was so thick that airline flights were delayed. Residents with breathing problems were being urged to stay indoors.

eric.bailey@latimes.com, cara.dimassa@latimes.comThe Associated Press contributed to this report

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