Fire sparked by lightning threatened an area of Alaska larger than the state of Rhode Island yesterday and new blazes chewed up California's forests and damaged avocado and citrus crops.

But in Maine, officials said a fire in a 200,000-acre preserve in the nation's largest state park was finally contained after 15 days.

Smoke was so heavy at the tiny Alaskan town of Buckland, surrounded by three fires totaling 70,000 acres, that it took survey crews from the federal Bureau of Land Management two days to get in, said Kerry Carter, a BLM spokesman.

The BLM said it had nearly 900 men and 70 aircraft in the field yesterday. But they were spread across a hue swath of central and northern Alaska, fighting 33 of 55 fires flaming in the region.

As of yesterday, there had been no deaths or even serious injuries among those fighting fires.

About 950,000 acres, an area larger the Rhode Island, were covered by flames, the BLM said. The largest of the 55 fires, the Kugruk Heights fire 100 miles north of Nome on the Seward Peninsual, covered 320,000 acres - about eight times the size of the District of Columbia.

A massive air assault was aimed yesterday at two California fires, one man-caused, in thick brush north of an area which burned last week destroying more than 200 homes in a wealthy suburb of Santa Barbara.

One of the fires, near Lake Cachuma, raged over 800 acres. It was believed man-caused. It was 50 per cent contained but erratic winds, high temperatures and low humidity threatened to spread the flames.

Temperatures were expected to get to 100 and humidity was 20 per cent.

The other fire, caused by lightning and called the Indian Fire, covered only about 20 to 40 acres, but was burning in a remote canyon. There were 75 men on the fires lines and more firefighters were to be forced in by helicopter.

Last Tuesday a man-caused fire whipped by Whirling Winds fired through heavy hillside brush into the suburb of Montenito destroying more than 200 homes and nearly 150 other structures. The damage was estimated at more than $20 million.

But in Maine, a fire that ravaged 3,500 acres of wilderness pressure at Baxter State Park was under control, although officials said it could flame up again.

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