Weather slows California wildfires; thousands allowed home

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California wildfires were slowly being corralled Friday as cooler, humid weather and reinforcements aided firefighters and tens of thousands of people were allowed back home after days of death and destruction.

In the past two days, evacuation orders were lifted for at least 50,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area and wine country, officials with the state fire agency, Cal Fire, said.

In heavily damaged areas, crews were working to restore electricity and water so more people could return to their homes.

Around the state, hundreds of wildfires — coming months earlier in the season than expected — have already killed at least seven people, burned more than 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers) and pushed firefighter resources to the breaking point. Two are among the largest wildfires in recent state history.

At their peak, some 170,000 people were under evacuation orders.

But a heat wave eased this week, and in the past few days cooler, more humid weather patterns slowed the spread of three massive complexes of wildfires in Northern California.

In addition, personnel, aircraft and bulldozers have been arriving from other states and California National Guard troops have joined the fight, authorities said.

Evacuation orders for more than 20,000 people were lifted over the past 24 hours in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, where a massive blaze caused by lightning was 26% surrounded, fire officials announced.

Three people reported missing in evacuation zones had been found, but there was a new report of one missing person, Santa Cruz County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Chris Clark said.

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The fire has burned at least 554 homes but the tally could rise. Inspection teams were struggling to get into remote areas because bridges were damaged and roads blocked by fallen trees and power lines, fire officials said.

Some 52,000 people remained evacuated from that fire. Clark could not say exactly when they would be allowed back home.

Clark also reported that firefighters doing mop-up work and putting out spot fires around a golf course found an open tool box containing an apparent pipe bomb.

A bomb squad detonated the device and detectives were investigating, Clark said.

In the eastern San Francisco Bay Area, a fire that has burned in seven counties gained a relatively modest amount of ground — less than 1.6 square miles (4.1 square kilometers) — and was 35% surrounded.

Parts of Solano County and Lake County, north of San Francisco, began allowing people back home on Thursday. Solano opened additional areas Friday morning.

In the heart of wine country, evacuation orders in Napa and Sonoma counties were lifted Wednesday for about 35,000 people who had been told to leave after lightning ignited dozens of blazes more than a week ago.

Firefighters and utility workers were clearing areas for returning residents. Crews increased containment of the massive cluster of fires north of San Francisco to 35%. That fire complex, the site of five deaths, still threatened 30,500 homes and other buildings after destroying more than 1,000.

Cal Fire said there still was “extreme fire behavior” and portions of the three-pronged fire continued to advance in several directions.

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Source: AP News

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