Firefighter dies battling California wildfire

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Photo Courtesy: MGN Online

(CNN) – A firefighter battling one of the large wildfires burning in California died in the line of duty this week, the U.S. Forest Service said.

David Ruhl of Rapid City, South Dakota, lost his life fighting the Frog Fire in far northern California’s Modoc National Forest, near Adin. Rescuers found his body Friday morning after searching for him through the night, the Forest Service said.

Ruhl, survived by a wife and two children, had been on temporary assignment in the area since June. The Forest Service didn’t release details about his death, adding that it was under investigation.

“Our hearts are heavy for Dave, Dave’s family, friends, the entire Forest Service and wildland fire community,” said Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien.

The Frog Fire, which consumed at least 800 acres since is was first spotted Thursday, is one of more than a dozen large wildfires burning across California. About 8,000 firefighters are working to contain them, according to state wildfire fighting agency Cal Fire.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Friday to help gather additional resources. The California National Guard has sent nine helicopters to help quell the flames.

50,000 acres scorched in 2 counties

Cal Fire says most of the fires are over 60% contained. However, the land damage has been substantial in some cases. Fires in southern California’s San Bernardino County and northern California’s Alpine counties have incinerated nearly 50,000 acres.

One of the state’s largest blazes, the Rocky Fire in northern California’s Lake County, is only 5% contained and has burned through 22,500 acres.

That fire has destroyed 28 structures and put another 6,100 under threat, said Dominic Polito, spokesman for firefighters battling the flames. At least 1,000 people were under a mandatory evacuation order, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said earlier.

The fire’s location in steep terrain is making work difficult for the more than 2,000 firefighters assigned to it.

In some areas, firefighters were surrounding homes to defend them as the fire passes, Polito said.

Some Lake County residents are carrying on as usual amid the precarious conditions.

“We can see the smoke and it appears to be blowing near us but there are no evacuations here that I know of. We are open for business and hoping the wind blows the other way because we have two tournaments tomorrow,” said Ted Mattila of Buckingham Golf and Country Club in Kelseyville.

The fire had been moving toward west toward some towns, but cool offshore winds Friday night into Saturday were pushing it back to the east, Polito said.

“But with the cool air in the night, it is going to the east now, and we’re hoping that it stays going that way for a little while,” Polito said Saturday morning.

Dozens of cars set ablaze as wildfire jumps California highway

Record drought

California’s record-setting drought, entering its fourth year, has “turned much of the state into a tinderbox,” Gov. Brown said.

Temperatures in Sacramento and other areas of northern California, where many of the fires are located, have topped 100 degrees recently. And while temperatures are cooling this weekend in Lake County, “conditions are so dry from the drought that won’t do much to stop the fire,” Berlant said. His department is urging extra caution for residents and visitors.

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