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Victory Declared Over 3 Fires; Big Sur Threat Continues

Times Staff Writer

Firefighting officials Sunday declared victory over several of the worst fires in California and swung their resources to reinforce the fight against the biggest remaining threat, the Rat Creek and Gorda fires south of Big Sur.

Containment or control was reached Saturday night or Sunday on the Lexington, Wheeler and Los Gatos Canyon fires. In a two-week blast of flames, the three fires burned almost 157,000 acres, 35 homes, 47 outbuildings and trailers and 45 vehicles.

Meanwhile, a new fire flared in the Mother Lode country of Calaveras County about seven miles northwest of the small town of Murphys. The blaze began Saturday and flamed through tall timber, at one point threatening the ruins of the ghost town of Fricot City.

A force of 489 firefighters had the 150-acre fire 50% contained Sunday afternoon and expected full containment Sunday night.

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Cool ocean air was both a blessing and a hindrance for firefighters. A visibility-reducing combination of smoke and coastal fog handicapped those facing the Rat Creek and Gorda blazes about 18 miles south of Big Sur State Park.

The two fires reached a total of 35,000 acres and were only 20% contained. Firefighters faced steep and inaccessible terrain as the flames burned northeastward into the Los Padres National Forest. The blazes earlier claimed eight structures, including two homes, in Lucia, a tiny food-and-gas stop for tourists on scenic California 1.

Officials bolstered the firefighting force to 2,380, bringing in more than 500 reinforcements from other fires that were crossed off the critical list.

The Lexington Reservoir Fire near Los Gatos was contained Saturday evening and declared 70% controlled Sunday. California Division of Forestry officials predicted full control by Sunday evening. In one week, the fire burned 13,800 acres and destroyed 23 homes and five trailers. Damage was estimated at $7 million to property and watershed, plus $1.4 million in firefighting costs.

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The Wheeler fire was declared contained Sunday morning, ending a two-week march through the Ojai-Carpinteria area. The fire burned 116,000 acres, 12 homes, 42 other structures, 45 vehicles and damaged seven houses. No control date was predicted.

In Fresno County, a cluster of six lightning-caused blazes 12 miles north of Coalinga called the Los Gatos Canyon Fire were contained Saturday evening, with control expected Sunday night, after consuming 27,155 acres.

Full control was expected this morning of the Las Pilitas fire near San Luis Obispo, which burned 75,000 acres, destroying 24 buildings and five vehicles. The fire was contained Wednesday.


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