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500 homes in California evacuated in Big Bear Lake fire (+video)

A wildfire broke out near a ski resort in the San Bernardino Mountains on Sunday. The blaze grew to 100 acres, but it was 25 percent contained.

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    The sun turns red as it sets through the smoke behind the Olymic Mountians in Bremerton on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. The smoke from the Central Washington fires left a smoky haze over the area.
    (Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun via AP)
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Planes and helicopters made major liquid drops on a wildfire that broke out near a ski resort in the San Bernardino Mountains on Sunday, bringing significant gains against the blaze that was threatening hundreds of homes in Southern California.

The fire near Snow Summit ski resort south of Big Bear Lake brought evacuation orders for between 400 and 500 homes, many of them cabins and vacation houses.

The blaze grew to 100 acres, but it was 25 percent contained.

Water cannons from the ski resort usually used for making snow are being pointed toward the fire.

"We've made plans for this exact scenario," Snow Summit's marketing manager Chris Riddle told KABC-TV. "We're pumping out a bunch of water right now, wetting down the trees, wetting down the surrounding grass."

The resort was open for mountain biking and scenic ski-lift rides before closing for the fire, Riddle said.

Meanwhile in Central California, firefighters were chipping away at a much larger blaze burning for several weeks that led to the evacuation of thousands of people and destroyed a lodge in Kings Canyon National Park.

Fire crews increased the blaze's containment to 7 percent Sunday, the U.S. Forest Service said. The wildfire has burned across more than 73 square miles of timber and brush left parched by the state's extended drought.

At least 2,500 campers, hikers, employees and residents fled the area last week, including staffers and summer campers at The Hume Lake Christian Camp.

Nobody was hurt when the Kings Canyon lodge, which bills itself as a folksy getaway for tourists, was burned to its foundation.

The lightning-sparked blaze has been burning for three weeks. It is one of 15 wildfires burning across California.

Smoke from the huge fire was expected to degrade air quality, especially in valley areas to the northeast, officials said Sunday.

Smoke was also making the search difficult for a hiker who has been missing since Thursday. Miyuki Hardwood, 62, separated from a group of strangers she had signed up to hike with on Thursday. A military helicopter joined in the search on Sunday, the Fresno County Sheriff's Department said.

There were no live flames near where Hardwood was hiking, but authorities were worried about the effects that the smoke, along with rocky terrain, would have on her safety.

Firefighters across the West saw little relief over the weekend as wildfires raged in the drought-stricken region, but for those in Washington, other states will soon provide additional resources.

A look at large Western wildfires:

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WASHINGTON

Fire officials say a complex of wildfires burning in north-central Washington has grown to cover 374 square miles. Infrared mapping found the fires spread about 19 square miles Saturday evening.

Fire spokeswoman Suzanne Flory says there could be some explosive fire growth Sunday if a cap of smoke lifts from Okanogan County, as has been forecast. When the smoke lifts on a wildfire, humidity drops, heat rises and fires can flare up. Flory says it's similar to what happens when the flue is opened on a fireplace.

Flory says the good news is that less smokes means restrictions on air travel will be lifted and more fire tankers can fly over and drop water and chemical retardant.

Meanwhile, officials have downgraded some evacuation notices, allowing some people to return to their homes.

On Sunday evening, the state Department of Health said that should nearby wildfires reach the site of a now-defunct uranium mine in Stevens County in eastern Washington, the smoke won't be any more toxic than the standard smoke from a wildfire.

In an announcement, the department said that radioactive materials at the Midnight Mine, which is about three miles northwest of Wellpinit on the Spokane Reservation, "won't exacerbate the dangers of wildfire smoke if the fires overtake the site as the naturally occurring radioactive material stays in its original rock form and does not burn."

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MONTANA

Firefighters and residents are bracing for a return to more intense fire activity in western Montana where wildfires have scored thousands of acres and threatened some small communities.

A fire weather watch posted Sunday warned that gusty winds and low humidity were expected Monday afternoon in Glacier National Park and the Kootenai and Flathead national forest areas.

On Glacier's southern boundary, a wildfire is about a mile south of the town of Essex where about 100 area residents have been advised to be ready to evacuate.

Fire spokesman Jonathan Moor says crews are working to keep the fire away from the town but it's difficult to predict what the fire will do over the next couple of days.

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OREGON

Cooler temperatures and reduced winds helped firefighters on Saturday who were battling a large wildfire in Oregon south of the towns of John Day and Canyon City.

Fire officials expect wind to pick up on Sunday, but since winds were expected to blow out of the southeast, they will send the fire back into an area that has already burned.

The lightning-caused Canyon-Creek Complex of fires has burned about 109 square miles since Aug. 12.

To the northeast, firefighters also made progress Saturday on the Grizzly Bear Complex of fires in northeast Oregon and southeast Washington. The five-lightning caused fires have burned more than 95 square miles since Aug. 13.

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