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Humidity helps crews fighting California wildfires

  • Associated Press
  • August 5, 2014 - 10:45 PM

BURNEY, Calif. — Thunderstorms that brought light rain and increased humidity to Northern California helped crews make progress Tuesday against two large wildfires that threatened hundreds of homes but also raised the possibility of new lightning-sparked blazes in the region.

The two fires were burning in the Lassen National Forest. The smaller of the two was within sight of the small Shasta County town of Burney, though officials said it remained about 4 miles away after showing almost no growth overnight.

The small town of 3,000 was filled with smoke from the blaze, but businesses were open as usual. Flames at the top of a mountain crest were no longer visible from a nearby vista point.

Crews increased their control over the nearly 45-square-mile Eiler Fire that has destroyed eight homes and threatened a little more than 700 others, some of which were evacuated.

Meanwhile, officials lifted evacuation orders Tuesday for residents who live in about a dozen homes near the larger of the Lassen National Forest blazes, which has burned through 62 square miles.

People were allowed to return home after the U.S. Forest Service reported increased containment of the Bald Fire, state fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said.

More lightning was forecast for the area, though Forest Service spokesman Jim Mackensen said he was hopeful the rain and damp conditions would prevent the strikes from starting fires.

The Eiler and Bald fires began within a day of each other and expanded ferociously through drought-killed or -weakened trees and brush. The Bald Fire was sparked by lightning, but it's unclear what ignited the Eiler blaze near Burney.

The summer wildfires didn't come as a surprise. Officials had been warning of dangerous conditions because of the drought. But the speed and fury of the Eiler Fire was disconcerting and terrifying, some evacuees said Monday at a shelter set up at a local school.

"Trees were just exploding," said Dennis Hoffman, who left the community of Cassel last week as flames roared through forests on either side of his home. "It was like a big monster — just unbelievable how bad it was."

More than a dozen wildfires were burning in the state.

Elsewhere in the West:

— Cooler temperatures and scattered showers helped firefighters hold the line on the Oregon Gulch Fire in the Siskiyou Mountains straddling the Oregon-California border. The fire remains at 57 square miles and was partially contained.

— Weather conditions allowed two fires in central Washington to grow. Residents of about 15 homes have been told to evacuate and dozens more have been advised to be ready to leave. Another blaze in the region has destroyed more than a dozen structures, including six homes or cabins, and it threatens dozens of other homes. Deputies were escorting residents into the area on a case-by-case basis, but the most serious evacuation notice for about 80 homes was still in effect Tuesday.

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