Click photo to enlarge
Inmates firefighters working for the California Department of Forestry are... ( MARIA J. AVILA )

Heat and heavy smoke continued to plague the army of firefighters battling a sprawling blaze in and around Henry W. Coe State Park, as state fire officials backed away Thursday from an earlier statement pinpointing the fire's origin.

As of 7 p.m. Thursday, the fire had blackened 27,000 acres and was 35 percent contained.

Efforts to control the damage were hampered by heavy smoke that forced officials to temporarily ground their air assault on the flames in remote canyons of Santa Clara County's backcountry.

Fire officials rescinded their statement from the day before that the fire started at a private hunting camp at Booze Lake, just north of the park boundary.

Eric Wood, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said Thursday that he traced the fire's path backward to its point of origin "on the northwest side of Henry Coe," adding, "I don't think it's near Booze Lake."

The owners of that lake, part of the Laurel Springs Gun Club, said Thursday that they wanted to be sure the record was straightened out, aware that liability for the cost of fighting the fire already has stretched to $3.3 million.

"I want to make sure everyone knows that Booze Lake was not the origin of that fire," said Bill Silveira, a San Jose construction company executive who is one of the property's owners and who was just leaving his cabin when the fire broke out Monday afternoon.


Silveira said he saw the first plume of smoke rising more than a mile northwest of his property. He met firefighters at the headquarters of the park and helped guide them through the remote mountain roads to the fire area.

"We headed out to get them to Blue Ridge above our ranch and then down into Booze Lake where they were going to try to make a stand, but the fire overtook us down there and just blew through Booze Lake," Silveira said. "I've never seen anything like it."

Wood, the fire investigator, said that while he pinpointed the location where a "burn barrel" used to dispose of garbage started the blaze, he hadn't determined ownership of the property or identified the person responsible for lighting it.

John Leonti, another nearby property owner who visited his 40-acre camp Tuesday, said he could see from the burn pattern that the fire started just north of his property line.

The sprawling 87,000-acre park extends across two counties and its boundary meanders across steep ridge lines and through undeveloped canyons that aren't reached by roads.

Officials, meanwhile, said they are hoping for cooler winds from the west to help them in their battle today. But the winds shifted at times Wednesday night and Thursday, causing the blaze to jump some of the lines fire crews had cleared.

"It went where we didn't want it to go," Cal Fire spokesman Jim Pope said Thursday morning.

After grounding air tankers and helicopters in the morning, officials decided it was safe to let them fly in the afternoon, when some of the smoke had cleared. Officials said 1,851 firefighters were involved in the effort.

With several other wildfires burning throughout the state, including a larger blaze in Plumas County, Pope said that it took a few days to get all the personnel that officials had requested to work the Lick fire.

"They have to prioritize where they send resources," Pope said. "We might not have gotten everything we had asked for. But right now, we are at the place we wanted to be with staffing."

Mercury News Staff Writer Mark Gomez contributed to this report.