LOCKWOOD VALLEY, Calif. - Fire crews guarded homes and ranches Wednesday as a stubborn wildfire that has jumped containment lines crept within a half-mile of hundreds of dwellings.
More than 220 fire engines streamed into mountain communities threatened by the massive blaze. Crews cleared brush near houses and positioned equipment and hoses to fight the slow-moving flames.
The fire, which began on Labor Day and has burned about 233 square miles, was burning in dry brush and dense stands of pine trees in Los Padres National Forest, about 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
After jumping fire lines on Tuesday, the blaze slowed in the cool overnight weather. But erratic winds could cause it to flare later, said Larry Comerford of the U.S. Forest Service.
"They"ll come from one direction one time and then they'll whip the other direction," he said.
Nearly 4,000 firefighters were deployed to fight the blaze. It was 41 percent contained late Wednesday after chewing through more than 159,281 acres, or nearly 249 square miles, of wilderness.
Residents of Lockwood Valley, Pine Mountain Club, Pinon Pines, Cuddy Valley, Camp Scheidek and Lake of the Woods were urged to evacuate, but many chose to stay in the remote Ventura County communities.
The blaze has destroyed two barns, three trailers, a cabin and five vehicles, said Dee Bechert, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman. The blaze was ignited by someone burning debris and firefighting costs have topped $53 million.
Pat Martin, 61, fled her home in Lake of the Woods. Spending the night at a Red Cross shelter set up at a high school gymnasium, she feared her home would be damaged or destroyed.
"When you're this old, how do you just start over?" Martin asked.
In Lockwood Valley, Kelli Herring remained with her horse, three dogs, seven alpacas and a desert tortoise. Firefighters guarded her house, which they had protected from approaching flames on Tuesday.
Herring, 49, said she had no intention of leaving.
"What safer place to be than with a bunch of firefighters?" she said.
The fire had turned 25 of her 43 acres of pine- and sage-dotted ranch land into a blackened wasteland marked by smoldering logs and branches.
"It made me cry this morning," she said. "I'm shocked. It looks like a bomb went off. My pine trees look like matchsticks now."
Also taking their chances were employees of Steve Martin's Working Wildlife, the home of more than 100 exotic animals ranging from bears to lions that are used in show business.
Trainer Rick Clark said the facility didn't have enough trained people to move the animals. He felt it was safer to stay at the 62-acre site.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency for Ventura County and the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds to cover some expenses.
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