Evacuees Return Home as Firefighters Make Progress Against California Wildfires

Thousands of people were driven from homes due to brush fires early this month in Butte and Santa Barbara counties

Nearly all evacuation orders have been called off for three major fires across California as dozens of wildfires throughout the West were coming under control.

A fire near the Northern California town of Oroville, which drove 4,000 people from their homes was 70 percent contained late Wednesday, allowing all residents there to return. Many of the same people had also been forced to flee this spring from the possibility of major flooding from a damaged dam spillway.

The blaze, which broke out Friday, has destroyed 41 homes and damaged three. It left behind burned out vintage cars, furniture, kitchen appliances and other items in the Sierra Nevada Mountains foothill community north of Sacramento.

To the south in Santa Barbara County, nearly all of the 3,500 people driven from homes by two large wildfires were able to return. A 45-square-mile  fire was 70 percent contained, allowing for all evacuations to be canceled. A few dozen homes remained under evacuation orders for the second fire in the area, burning near Lake Cachuma.

The fires burned during a stretch of hot and dry weather in California, where some locations will see extreme heat again this weekend.

Crews were making similar progress against dozens of wildfires across the western U.S.

In Nevada, more than 1,500 firefighters continued to battle a half-dozen large wildfires, including several fueled by grass growth from an unusually wet winter.

One blaze forced the evacuation of a gold mine north of Interstate 80 in the north-central part of the state, and another was threatening sage grouse and wild horse habitat near U.S. Highway 50 about 100 miles (161 kilometers) east of Reno.

Dozens of wildfires were burning across Arizona, but the arrival of monsoon rains has significantly reduced the threat they posed and most were coming under control. 

CAL FIRE reported more than 2,900 fires in California from Jan. 1 to July 9. Those fires scorched more than 68,000 acres. During that same period last year, Cal Fire reported 2,270 fires that burned 30,500 acres.

A report released June 1 provided a wildfire outlook for the hot, dry summer months in California. The National Interagency Fire Center report wildfire risk will be high in inland Southern California in July and in parts of Northern California during August and September. The state is coming off one of its wettest winters in years, which left hillsides covered in grass and other vegetation. 

That grass will dry out this summer and turn into tinder, providing fuel for rapidly spreading fires often pushed by strong winds. The report noted what could be a delayed start to the wildfire season in some locations. 

An increase in the number of dead and dying trees also can exacerbate the wildfire threat, Cal Fire officials said. An estimated 102 million trees have died in California due to the state's five-year dry spell and bark beetle infestation.

The agency has been urging residents to take prevention steps such as maintaining 100 feet of defensible space around homes and other structures. Defensible space provides a natural buffer between buildings and grass, trees, bushes, shrubs and other vegetation that can burn.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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