California fire crews stand ground; winds approach

AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezA firefighters sets a controlled burn with a drip torch while fighting the King Fire on Tuesday

Crews battling a massive blaze threatening thousands of homes in Northern California are standing their ground as gusty winds approach.

Containment lines around the King Fire east of Sacramento were holding Wednesday but weather officials say gusts up to 40 mph and low humidity are expected later in the day.

Eric Kurth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, says the southwesterly winds could last well into Thursday, despite a chance of rain and cooler temperatures.

The fire has burned 145 square miles since it started Sept. 13. It has destroyed 12 homes and is threatening another 12,000.

Containment has reached nearly 40 percent.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

More than 7,000 firefighters battling a massive wildfire that has threatened thousands of homes for well over a week and fouled the air in two states kept the flames in check despite gusty winds and low humidity levels.

Containment lines around the blaze east of Sacramento held up late Tuesday and overnight, fire spokeswoman Rosanne Grier said. In the few cases where embers crossed the line, crews were quickly able to surround the fires and contain them.

The fire has burned through 145 square miles since it started Sept. 13. It has destroyed 12 homes and is threatening another 12,000.

Containment was up to nearly 40 percent, but crews were expecting another day of gusty winds and low humidity Wednesday before the arrival of cooler, wetter weather.

“We're not sitting back and waiting,” said state fire Battalion Chief Scott McLean. “We have crews trying to get those containment lines strengthened.”

Nearly 2,000 firefighters were brought in as reinforcements Tuesday, bringing the total to about 7,400.

“This is the highest priority fire in the nation,” McLean said

The wildfire, which authorities believe was deliberately set, is threatening about 21,000 structures, more than half of them homes.

Evacuated homeowners in the White Meadows area near Pollock Pines about 60 miles east of Sacramento were allowed to return Tuesday, El Dorado Sheriff John D'Agostini said.

About 2,700 people remain under evacuation orders, fire officials said. The fire also threatens a key University of California, Berkeley, research station that is home to scores of experiments on trees, plants and other wildlife.

The National Weather Service issued a dense-smoke advisory for Reno, Nevada, and around Lake Tahoe, which is about 15 miles from the fire.

The air quality index was rated “hazardous” for the city of Auburn northeast of Sacramento, as well as the Roseville and Rocklin areas.

The man charged with starting the fire, Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, has pleaded not guilty to arson.

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