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1 dead in South California wildfire; 20 homes destroyed

9:05 PM, Sep 24, 2012   |    comments
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CAMPO, Calif. (AP) - Firefighters recovered a body from a burned house Monday as they raced the winds to contain Southern California wildfires that destroyed 20 homes and threatened several hundred more in rural areas.

Crews battled the blaze amid winds gusting up to 20 mph that were expected to continue late Monday in southeastern San Diego County, where a 3-square-mile fire churned slowly through hilly brushlands in a desert area near the U.S.-Mexico border.

It's too soon to know the gender of the body found just before 2:30 p.m. inside a home on Tierra del Sol Road near Campo, said Cal Fire spokesman Capt. Richard Cordova.

A man described by U-T San Diego as an 82-year-old with one leg was living at the home and was reported missing by neighbors.

Neighbors told authorities he had refused to evacuate and his only car was parked outside, prompting the search. Firefighters and sheriff's deputies had to wait several hours before it was safe enough to enter the charred home, San Diego County sheriff's spokeswoman Melissa Aquino said.

The 2,000-acre blaze was 10 percent surrounded Monday. About 80 homes were ordered evacuated near the Campo Indian Reservation.

The fire has destroyed 20 homes, damaged 10 and burned 15 outbuildings since it erupted Sunday, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. Mike Mohler.

An evacuation center was set up at a high school in the nearby community of Pine Valley. Many residents gathered at the Golden Acorn Casino, which also served as the command post for firefighters, to learn whether their homes were still standing.

Christopher Kirchner told U-T San Diego that the place he rents was about 200 feet from a residence that burned down.

"I was just talking to some of my neighbors," Kirchner said. "They were crying and saying they had no place to go. We've heard rumors that our place is still standing, but nobody will tell us anything."

Farther north, a 150-acre wildfire in Riverside County was about 90 percent contained. It had been reduced mainly to embers but still posed a potential threat to as many as 200 homes in the Murrieta area if afternoon winds pushed it over fire lines, Murrieta Fire Chief Matt Shobert said.

The cause of both fires was under investigation.

Elsewhere in the West, major wildfires in Washington on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range were relatively calm, but smoke continued to blanket some communities Monday.

The two largest fires were reported as bigger in size due mostly to better mapping and the use of burnouts to create fire lines, officials said. The Wenatchee Complex of fires was reported Monday morning at 82 square miles, while the Table Mountain fire was reported at nearly 57 square miles in size.

State officials said air quality in the Wenatchee and Cashmere areas remains in the "hazardous" category, while many other Eastern Washington communities have "unhealthy" air quality. Air quality was not expected to improve much Monday.

In Montana, Musselshell County lifted an evacuation order for about 50 homes southeast of Roundup after a 5 1/2-square mile wildfire was reported about 60 percent contained.

Fire officials hoped to have the blaze fully under control by Tuesday.

The human-caused blaze ignited Saturday and was under investigation.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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