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Governor Jerry Brown declares state of emergency in counties affected by wildfire

The Ponderosa fire, which has moved through 23-square-miles of heavily wooded land near Redding, forces thousands of people to evacuate from their homes. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

Updated at 7:45 p.m. ET: California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in three Northern California counties after the Ponderosa wildfire destroyed dozens of buildings and threatened hundreds more.

Some 3,000 people have been evacuated as fire burns through more than 24,000 acres of steep, rugged terrain in the rural California counties of Tehama and Shasta, about 125 miles north of state capital Sacramento.

The lightning-sparked blaze was 50 percent contained as of Wednesday afternoon, fire officials said, but 200 homes, 10 commercial properties and 30 outbuildings were still at risk of being consumed by the fire.

Brown also declared a state of emergency in nearby Plumas County, where firefighters were battling a fire nearly double the size of the Ponderosa blaze. Declaring a state of emergency frees up funds to help combat the fires. 

Firefighters were expected on Wednesday to start inspecting the damage from the Ponderosa blaze, which they had surveyed by air on Tuesday.

Efforts to prevent the fire from overrunning the rural towns of Manton and Shingletown have succeeded so far despite high winds and heat, fire officials said, and evacuation orders for Shingletown and the Lake McCumber area were lifted on Wednesday.

But an expanded evacuation warning was issued for areas along Highway 36, including the community of Mineral.

"Firefighters are working aggressively to build approximately 11 miles of line and strengthen existing containment lines," the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on its website.

"As additional resources arrive, firefighters will continue to diligently defend structures, construct containment lines and build bulldozer perimeter lines," it said.

Blazes in multiple states threaten houses and cause evacuations.

The Ponderosa fire is one of many burning in the Western U.S.:

The evacuated town of Featherville, Idaho, about 50 miles east of Boise, remains under threat. The fierce Trinity Ridge Fire -- visible from space -- has claimed almost 148 square miles in the central part of Idaho, according to the Idaho Statesman. Featherville still remains untouched by the flames, but firefighters said they're ready with a plan to slow the blaze if it comes into town.

More than 100 citizen soldiers from the Idaho National Guard arrived Monday to help firefighters, Boise's NBC-affiliate KTVB reported.

"It sounds like they have got their hands full but we are here for as long as they need us," Idaho National Guard Captain Chris Harvey told KTVB. "Our primary role is for traffic control and entry points into the national forest, since they've closed the entire forest off," said Cpt. Harvey."

A thunderstorm on Tuesday made some areas of the fire more active, while the fire growth in other areas slowed because of the rain, the Idaho Statesman reported.

NASA satellite images from space illustrate just how intense the smoke over Idaho is. The state's Mustang Complex Fire is only nine percent contained, while the Halstead Fire, which is more than 93,000 acres, is only five percent contained, according to the USDA Forest Service.

Dozens of homes have fallen victim to the Taylor Bridge Wildfire raging near Cle Elum, Wash., about 75 miles east of Seattle. The fire has charred about 36 square miles of timber, sagebrush and grass in rural land, since it began a week ago at a bridge construction project, the AP reported.

At least 51 homes and cabins, as well as 26 outbuildings, are destroyed. Six homes and cabins are damaged. Officials say damage from the wildfire is already estimated at $8.3 million, Seattle's NBC-affiliate KING 5 reported.

As of Tuesday night, the fire is now 90 percent contained, KING 5 reported.

Evacuee Bob Haynie told KING 5 he still checks on his home every day.

"It takes a lot of energy to be stressed out and after a while you run out of energy," Haynie said. "So you just go on and say, 'OK, let see what happens now.'"

Air quality is suffering in the Pacific Northwest from the wildfire smoke, according to "The Smog Blog" by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The 2012 wildfire season has been brutal: Already, flames have consumed more than 6.9 million acres in the U.S., according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Reuters, The Associated Press, NBC's Mike Taibbi and NBC's Natalie Morales contributed to this report.

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