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California wildfire threatens 1,000 more homes near Sequoia National Park

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California wildfire that has already destroyed three structures and blackened some three square miles of forest land near Sequoia National Park was threatening 1,000 more homes on Monday, officials said.

More than 1,100 firefighters were battling the so-called Shirley Fire, which erupted on Friday evening on the park's outskirts northeast of Bakersfield and prompted the evacuation of several foothill communities.

The flames jumped containment lines on Saturday, fueled by high winds and dry brush, according to the U.S Forest Service, despite the efforts of water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

No injuries have been reported from the blaze.

The nose gear of an air tanker aiding in the fire-fighting efforts collapsed on returning to Fresno Airport on Sunday evening, the Forest Service said, damaging the plane but leaving the two crew members unhurt.

So far three homes have been burned to the ground and another was damaged, although two of those dwellings were apparently abandoned, according to the Forest Service.

Crews who had so far cut containment lines around only about 10 percent of the blaze were hoping to get a better handle on the flames on Monday despite warm temperatures and gusty winds that have complicated firefighting efforts.

California’s fire season has been particularly severe this year, with one of the worst droughts in the state's history playing a substantial role in the size and number of wildfires across the state.

Since Jan. 1, Cal Fire has responded to more than 1,500 wildfires, nearly double its five-year average over the same period. The department has hired additional seasonal firefighters across the state and has bolstered fire equipment earlier in the season than normal.

Sequoia National Park encompasses some 400,000 acres in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains and is famed for its giant sequoia trees.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Grant McCool)

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