- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2008

PARADISE, Calif. (AP) | Firefighting officials said Friday that one person died when a wildfire swept through a rural area of Northern California, a rare human casualty among the hundreds of blazes that have tormented the state for weeks.

Capt. Scott McLean of the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection confirmed the death near the town of Concow but did not provide details. He said the victim was not a firefighter.

A complex of blazes in Butte County already has destroyed 50 homes in Concow and forced some 10,000 residents of the nearby town of Paradise to flee.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered an additional 2,000 National Guard troops to help firefighting efforts throughout the state. President Bush planned a visit next week to survey the state’s wildfires, which have burned more than 1,100 square miles and destroyed about 100 homes.

Firefighters battling the out-of-control fires in the Sierra Nevada foothills thought they had caught a break Friday when strong winds they feared could blow hot embers across fire lines toward thousands of homes did not immediately materialize. The northeast winds forecast for the morning were expected to be similar to those that caused the fire to flare up earlier this week.

It was not immediately clear whether the fatality occurred during Friday’s fire activity.

Officials have said this unprecedented fire season, plagued by drought and high temperatures, has seen the most fires burning at any one time in recorded California history. Most of the blazes began during a massive June 21 lightning storm that sparked 800 wildfires across Northern California.

This year had been remarkable not only for the scope of the fires, but also for the low number of fatalities and major injuries so far.

During a separate fire in Paradise last month, an elderly woman died after suffering a heart attack while voluntarily leaving her home. On July 2, a volunteer firefighter collapsed on the fire line in Mendocino County and died at a hospital a day later.

Fire officials estimate about 320 fires were still burning in the state this week.

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