California wildfires now 50 percent contained: Evacuations lifted

California wildfires have damaged three homes and burned more than 4 square miles of trees and brush in and around Sequoia National Forest.

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    Jet-powered DC-10 air tanker #910 makes a long drop of fire retardant on the Shirley Fire on June 14, in the Alta Sierra area where the wildfire has consumed more than 800 acres.
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All evacuation orders were lifted Monday evening after firefighters made significant progress containing 50 percent of a smoky mountain wildfire west of a lake near Bakersfield, officials said.

The blaze has destroyed three houses, damaged another, and forced hundreds to flee their homes. At least two of the burned houses appeared to be abandoned, the US Forest Service said in a statement.

One other home was damaged by the blaze, which charred more than 4 square miles of trees and brush in and around Sequoia National Forest and also threatened power lines and communications facilities.

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Firefighters used air tankers and helicopters to battle the blaze in the southern Sierra Nevadas. The fire has been pushed by gusty winds amid drought conditions.

On Monday, firefighters succeeded in digging a fire line almost all the way around the blaze and were burning vegetation in the fire's path.

"It's running out of fuel basically, and it is burning downhill, so the fuel load is lighter as it goes downhill to brush and grasses rather than conifers," said fire spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman. She said lighter winds were also expected in coming days.

Their progress was helped Monday by winds that were calmer than expected and about 500 more firefighters assigned to battle the blaze, bringing total personnel to more than 1,600.

The fire broke out Friday night in a remote area 40 miles northeast of Bakersfield and expanded Saturday as dry winds pushed the flames toward homes, prompting Kern County sheriff's deputies to knock on doors into the night urging residents in 1,000 homes to leave.

Firefighters battled the blaze in steep, rugged terrain at elevations of up to 4,000 feet in a popular outdoor recreation area. Aircraft were scooping water from Lake Isabella to use on the flames. Helicopters flew around the clock and crews were able to keep the fire from growing significantly.

Authorities planned to keep the augmented crews working so they don't lose any time during shift changes to make progress, Forest Service spokeswoman Jennifer Chapman said. "It's going to be even hotter and drier at the end of the week," she said.

The Forest Service said that camping, horseback riding, rafting and other activities in the Sequoia district were so far unaffected by the blaze.

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