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Calif. firefighters make progress against fires

Posted: July 11, 2012 9:30 a.m.
Updated: July 11, 2012 9:30 a.m.

An area where the Waterman fire started and that burned more then 75 acres at Waterman Canyon, is sectioned off Monday July 9, 2012 in San Bernardino County.

 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Firefighters made progress in battling several blazes burning thousands of acres across California as a heat wave showed some signs of peaking late Tuesday.

A pair of wildfires several miles apart in Northern California that have scorched more than 20,000 acres and left two firefighters with heat-related injuries grew larger, but additional firefighters arriving to help out were able to increase containment levels on the fires. A wildfire in Southern California sent smoke over San Bernardino and the triple-digit temperatures left four firefighters with heat-related injuries.

A fire in the Mendocino National Forest that has burned some 16,000 acres kept campgrounds closed and a handful of homes under evacuation, but an increase in humidity was helping firefighters make progress in trying to contain the fire, Michelle Puckett, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management, said late Tuesday.

"The fire will burn actively tonight, but firefighters are going to try to take advantage of the weather," said Puckett as more than 1,100 firefighters battled the blaze. The fire is now 30 percent contained.

Just several miles to the east, crews at a fire near the farming community of Maxwell, in Colusa County, were also making progress.

The fire has consumed about 4,100 acres and was 60 percent contained, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said late Tuesday.

The more than 1,300 firefighters battling the blaze expected to have the fire surrounded sometime Friday.

Although the fire came close to a few ranches, no structures are currently threatened.

Berlant said that while the winds have died down, crews still struggled during the day with triple-digit temperatures, single-digit humidity and very dry conditions.

"The hard work we did really put out many of those hot spots on the flank of the fire," he said.

Both fires saw their reported sizes more than double Monday, though fire officials said much of the increase was due to better measurements after aircraft flyovers.

To the south in the mountains above San Bernardino, a fire that burned 75 acres near Highway 18 in Waterman Canyon was contained Tuesday night.

Residents asked to voluntarily leave for several hours were allowed to return to their homes and the highway, closed earlier, was open.

Four firefighters were taken from the scene with injuries due to the excessive heat as late-afternoon temperatures soared above 100 degrees, but it was not clear how severe their conditions were.

Temperatures soared into triple digits again Tuesday in the interior of Southern California.

Lancaster, located in the high desert north of Los Angeles, urged people to spend the day at a cooling center in a museum, while Burbank, in the San Fernando Valley, offered respite from the heat in two libraries.

Beaches also were an option as temperatures dropped dramatically into the 60s and 70s toward the coast.

The National Weather Service said an excessive heat warning would be in effect through Thursday across the deserts. Forecasters also warned that the heat, combined with low humidity levels, will elevate the fire danger.

Another wildfire near Highway 395 in Inyo County was 100 percent contained after burning 1,103 acres and briefly threatening about 300 homes. The containment was an essential step, with the area expected to see strong winds, high temperatures and the possibility of dry lightning this week.

"We don't need lightning in that area," state fire Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson said. "That could be a very bad thing."

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