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Baleful day of fires, storms, floods

Major flooding hit the Midwest, and wildfires swept parts of Calif., Minn., Ga. and Fla. Still, it wasn't a record-setter.

Nature's fury made life miserable yesterday from one end of the nation to the other, with people forced out of their homes by wildfires near both coasts and the Canadian border and by major flooding in the Midwest.

And although the calendar still said spring, the first named storm of the year was whipping up surf on the beaches of the Southeast. Subtropical Storm Andrea had top sustained winds of about 45 miles per hour and didn't appear to be much of a threat, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Overall, it wasn't quite a day for the record books.

"It's a major flood," National Weather Service meteorologist Suzanne Fortin said yesterday of the flooding in Missouri. "It won't be a record-breaker, but it will be in the top three."

A three-week-old fire in southern Georgia had become that state's biggest on record after charring 167 square miles of forest and swamp in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Smoke and a dusting of ashes filled the air through much of Florida and southeastern Georgia. The haze over most of Florida even closed several highways and sent people with breathing problems indoors.

In Los Angeles, fire burned in a park behind the iconic Griffith Observatory.

The flooding was produced by the drenching weekend thunderstorms across the Plains states.

High water had poured over the tops of at least 20 levees along the Missouri River and other streams in the state, authorities said yesterday.

Missouri National Guard troops were helping. And Highway Patrol troopers were working 24-hour shifts near Big Lake, a village in the state's northwest corner, which was inundated by five levee breaks along the Missouri River and four smaller ones on other streams, Patrol Lt. John Hotz said.

In central Missouri, the state capital, Jefferson City, was preparing for flooding.

On the West Coast, in view of many Los Angeles residents, a blaze had covered more than 800 acres in the city's sprawling Griffith Park.

The danger to houses south of the park had eased yesterday, and many of the hundreds of residents evacuated overnight were allowed to return. However, fire officials warned that conditions could change.

The fire appeared to have been accidental, said battalion chief John Miller, who oversees arson investigations.

In the Southeast, a wildfire in northern Florida's Bradford County had forced the evacuation of about 250 homes, said Annaleasa Winter, a state forestry spokeswoman. Officials in southeastern Georgia issued a mandatory evacuation yesterday for an area including the town of Moniac.

Elsewhere yesterday, a wildfire near the Canadian border in northeastern Minnesota had covered more than 34 square miles.