Crews fight fires in California, Florida, Nevada

May 31, 2001 Posted: 10:52 AM EDT (1452 GMT)

SUSANVILLE, California (AP) -- A 4,350 acre wildfire scorched the city limits of Susanville, California, and reached within a quarter-mile of an RV park, threatening dozens of evacuated homeowners whose fortunes now lie in the hands of firefighters.

"Once it gets into town, who knows what will happen? The potential for disaster was great," said Bob Garate, a former firefighter who watched the raging fire come perilously close to his home, about 80 miles northwest of Reno.

Firefighters had contained 70 percent of the blaze by Wednesday evening and hoped to have it fully under control by Monday. Damage was estimated at $2 million.

In north Florida, crews were battling a wildfire that has burned nearly 61,000 acres of commercial timberland and swamp between Tallahassee and Gainesville.

The Mallory Swamp fire is the largest of about 184 active fires in the state, accounting for nearly a quarter of about 267,000 acres that have burned in Florida since January 1.

It was about 45 percent contained Wednesday, according to the Florida Division of Forestry.

At a Denver news conference Tuesday, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said the summer was shaping up to be one of the worst in decades for wildfire potential.

"This is the second-driest year in the last 100 years in the Pacific Northwest," she said, adding that millions of federal acres need to be cleared of underbrush.

Last year was the worst for fires in a half-century, with 93,000 wildfires damaging 7.3 million acres.

The blaze threatening Susanville was being fought by 1,864 firefighters. Some five dozen homeowners who've spent sleepless nights on cots in an emergency shelter wonder whether they'll be as lucky the next time.

"This really put a scare into Susanville. Everybody in town was concerned," Garate said of the 17,500 residents.

About 250 miles southwest of Susanville in the Mendocino National Forest, another 145 acres were charred. That fire was expected to be extinguished by Thursday, said forest spokeswoman Phebe Brown.

In New Mexico, firefighters battled hot, dry, windy weather and a blaze that scorched about 1,400 acres of the Guadalupe Mountains in an unpopulated area of the Lincoln National Forest.

A 6,500-acre wildland fire near Pyramid Lake, about 40 miles north of Reno, Nevada, was about 80 percent contained.

Another fire in Florida, about three miles northwest of the Mallory Swamp blaze, covered 1,282 acres and was about 35 percent contained Wednesday. Wildfires were also burning near Walt Disney World outside Orlando, southwest of there near Haines City and in Lake and Sumter counties west of Orlando.