CLEARLAKE OAKS, Calif. (AP) — All evacuations were lifted Saturday after cooler weather helped firefighters gain more ground against a Northern California wildfire that has forced hundreds of people from their homes.
The blaze is 70 percent contained after sweeping through nearly 109 square miles of rural timberlands and brushy hills in Lake, Colusa and Yolo counties, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
Cooler overnight weather and relative humidity allowed fire crews to make progress. Reinforcement, which includes 50 fire engines sent to California from Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona, helped relieve fire personnel who have been working two weeks straight, department spokesman Daniel Berlant said.
About 3,000 firefighters continued to fight the blaze Saturday, down from 3,600 during the peak of the fire that erupted July 29.
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The fire is not growing — only creeping and smoldering — but gusty southwest winds through many parts of Northern California are forecast for next week and that could elevate fire risks, Berlant said.
“We still have a lot of work to do until we can get good containment all around the fire so it doesn’t become active again,” he said.
Most of 1,200 evacuees had returned home by Friday. But while containment grew, so did the sadness for some who lost everything.
Layna Rivas returned to her artists’ compound up a rocky dirt road Thursday night and found the place destroyed. “It looked like a bomb went off everywhere,” she said.
The 35-year-old left her home last week and took her dogs and cats to a friend’s house. She had to leave her nine chickens behind.
She found two of them, one of which was walking through the rubble.
“She was nameless. Now her name is Rocky,” said Rivas, dubbing the bird for the blaze that officials call the Rocky Fire.
While the fire burning 100 miles north of San Francisco is the biggest, another 16 blazes continue to burn in California and more than 7,000 thousands firefighters are battling them, Cal Fire said.
In Humboldt County, more than 70 blazes sparked by lighting had consumed 7 square miles and incinerated six outbuildings. The fires are burning in steep, rugged terrain with poor access and heavy timber fuels and are threating commercial timberland.
Much of the timberland is owned by small timberland and rangeland owners, who rely on timber and range revenue for a steady source of income. The fires are also threatening habitat for endangered species, Cal Fire said.