Feds send help to fight N. California wildfire

(CBS/AP) MANTON, Calif. - More than 1,900 firefighters are already battling a blaze in Northern California that threatens some 3,500 homes, but the state's governor said Tuesday the National Guard will join the fight, and that he has secured permission from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for additional help.

Now, the state can mobilize military troops and aircraft to fight fires under a single commander within the National Guard, reports CBS affiliate KHSL-TV.

"Too often the response to fires is wrapped up in red tape, with each military branch reporting to a different commander," said Governor Jerry Brown, according to KHSL. "When fires are burning, every second counts. By unifying the command, this agreement will allow us to fight fires, not bureaucracy."

The fire had been moving quickly, but the tide turned Tuesday thanks to a change in the winds and the small air force assembled that's making run after run over the treetops.

Fire Battalion Chief Mike Carr told CBS News' Tammy Leitner: "We've stopped the fire from spreading and are focusing on hot spots."

The blaze, which has destroyed seven homes, has fearful residents seeking safety miles away at an emergency shelter. After igniting on Saturday, the fire has grown to more than 30 square miles and was 35 percent contained Tuesday morning.

Firefighters are battling the blaze in rugged, densely forested terrain as it threatens 3,500 homes in the towns of Manton, Shingletown and Viola, about 170 miles north of Sacramento.

The blaze has left some of the thousands of evacuees frustrated as they wait to hear the latest information. (Watch a report above by CBS News' Bigad Shaban on evacuees in Northern California.)

"Yeah, but what can you do? Everything is in God's hands — and the firefighters," said evacuee Lynn Rodgers, 47, of Shingletown, who along with her husband and two teenage sons sought shelter at a sports complex in nearby Redding, Calif.

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Shifting winds that arrived on Monday were helping to keep the blaze away from homes, state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said Tuesday. The winds are allowing fire crews to go after the blaze from multiple angles and to improve their containment lines around the wildfire.

However, Berlant said there is concern that expected gusts between 25 to 35 miles per hour on Tuesday could hamper efforts, especially along the southern edge

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it's offering federal funds to help fight the blaze.

The fast-moving Ponderosa Fire was one of many burning across the West, where lightning, dry temperatures and gusting winds sparking up aging grass, brush and timber have brought an earlier start to fire season.

Melted satellite dishes, the remains of burned furniture and charred refrigerators could be seen in some homes in the rural, remote area. As the wildfire burned, massive amounts of smoke poured up from the forest.

The fire forced the closure of Highway 44 and other roads, and prompted the declaration of an emergency in Shasta County. The Red Cross set up an evacuation center at a sports complex in Redding, where dozens of people, from the elderly to infants, as well as about a dozen dogs, were given shelter.

One evacuee, Bonnie Maloy, who escaped her home in Shingletown, along with her husband Bill, described the scene as they fled the flames.

"Frantic at first, then I said, `Let's calm down,' and we got everything that's important, things we couldn't replace: animals, kids, photo albums," she said.

Rodgers, another evacuee from Shingletown, said Tuesday that her family employed a similar strategy prior to getting the call on Saturday to leave their home of barely a year.

Along with her husband, Derek, and their two sons, Rodgers said they loaded up their belongings and two dogs and two cats. The family stayed at a motel on Saturday before joining other evacuees at the sports complex on Sunday.

Since then, Rodgers said she's staying busy by volunteering and cleaning up around the complex.

"It's our home right now, so for the time being, we should all be appreciative and take care of it," Rodgers said.

Meanwhile, crews handling a massive wildfire burning to the south in Plumas National Forest since July 29 that grew larger over the weekend due to strong winds are trying to re-establish containment lines. The blaze, about 120 miles north of Sacramento, has consumed 79 square miles and threatens about 900 homes. It remains 37 percent contained.

Also in California, a wildfire in Lassen Volcanic National Park remains at 79 percent containment. Officials expect the fire to be contained by Wednesday.

In Washington state, firefighters hope to fully contain a week-old wildfire that burned dozens of homes in Cle Elum, about 75 miles east of Seattle.

The Taylor Bridge Fire was 57 percent contained Tuesday morning. The blaze has caused an estimated $8.3 million in property damage.

Smaller fires are burning in Colorado, Idaho and Utah after being sparked by lightning over the weekend.

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