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Wildfire Evacuees Return to Find Homes Gone

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

Dazed residents chased away by a fierce 76-square-mile wildfire still raging in Central California returned to their charred neighborhood Wednesday where chimneys stood like tombstones.

“I hope we find whoever did this,” a solemn Gov. Pete Wilson told homeowners as he examined the arson-ravaged Tassajara Creek area, 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles in San Luis Obispo County.

The wildfire destroyed 37 homes and charred 48,531 acres in picturesque hills and century-old thickets of brush. It was 85% contained Wednesday, with full containment expected Monday night.

In Northern California near the Nevada border, a fire that broke out Tuesday near a campground south of Sierraville exploded to cover at least 8,500 acres. Three campgrounds and a logging camp were evacuated and residents of about 30 homes in a Loyalton subdivision were urged to leave.

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In other California fires Wednesday:

* Firefighters battled a wildfire near Mt. Baldy in Angeles National Forest. The fire blackened 600 acres, said Dianne Cahir, a fire information officer with the U.S. Forest Service. The blaze was 10% contained Wednesday.

* Subsiding winds and moist sea air helped firefighters battle a 635-acre wildfire in the hills above the Mendocino coastline. The fire was 75% contained, with full containment expected by nightfall.

In San Luis Obispo County, the fight focused on the fire’s southeast front, the rugged and uninhabited upper Lopez Canyon area east of U.S. 101. The fire was no longer threatening structures, and all roads in the area were reopened by Wednesday morning, said Thomas Williams, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry based in Riverside.

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Gov. Wilson told homeowners Wednesday that the state was offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the arsonist who started the blaze off California 41 near Atascadero on Sunday afternoon.


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