Environment First Look

Fire crews report better containment in California, Western US blazes

Cooler temperatures and reduced winds on Monday helped firefighters gain ground on some California wildfires following a record-setting heat wave, although others rage on. Containment of several other US-based fires also increased. 

A plane drops retardant while battling a wildfire near Oroville, Calif., on Saturday, July 8, 2017. The fire south of Oroville was one of more than a dozen burning in the state as firefighters worked in scorching temperatures to control unruly flames. However, cooler temperatures and reduced winds on Monday gave fire crews an edge on the California blazes while crews in other western states also inch toward containment.
Noah Berger/AP
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Caption
  • The Associated Press
    Associated Press

Following a searing weekend, slightly cooler temperatures and diminishing winds were helping firefighters Monday as they battled several California wildfires that have forced thousands of residents to flee. Crews also made progress on wildfires in Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Here's a closer look at the fires burning in the western United States and Canada.

California

Crews made progress overnight on a blaze that swept through grassy foothills in the Sierra Nevada, about 60 miles north of Sacramento.

Containment was up to 35 percent, said Mary Ann Aldrich, spokeswoman for the state fire protection agency.

About 4,000 people remain under evacuation orders. But Ms. Aldrich said if winds continue to die down, authorities are hopeful some will be able to return to their homes Monday.

The fire has burned nearly 9 square miles of grass, injured four firefighters and destroyed at least 17 structures.

The area burning was southeast of Oroville, where spillways in the nation's tallest dam began crumbling from heavy rains this winter and led to temporary evacuation orders for 200,000 residents downstream.

"It leaves you feeling like you can't catch a break," said Sharon Reitan, who sought shelter at an evacuation center with her boyfriend Sunday night.

They were in Oroville on Friday when the fire broke out and roads to their hillside home were blocked. They later saw photographs of their home burned to the ground.

The wildfire was one of more than a dozen across California that about 5,000 firefighters battled Monday.

In Southern California, at least 3,500 people remain evacuated as a pair of fires raged at separate ends of Santa Barbara County. The largest of the two has charred more than 45 square miles of dry brush and is threatening more than 130 rural homes. It's 15 percent contained.

The fires broke out amid a blistering weekend heatwave that toppled temperature records and made conditions dangerous for firefighters. Slightly cooler weather was expected to give crews a break in the coming days.

About 50 miles to the south, a 17-square-mile blaze shut down State Route 154, which was expected to remain closed for days. It's just 5 percent contained.

At least 20 structures burned, but officials didn't say if they were homes.

The fire broke out near a campsite and sent hundreds of campers scrambling, including about 90 children and 50 staff members at the Circle V Ranch who had to take shelter until they could be safely evacuated.

Some of the firefighters working to contain the Santa Barbara County blazes were sent to nearby San Luis Obispo County when a fire broke out Sunday and threatened numerous structures near the town of Santa Margarita. Officials said the fire burned less than 1 square mile.

Elsewhere in the US West

The fight against a wildfire that temporarily forced the evacuation of hundreds of people near the resort town of Breckenridge, Colo., is winding down.

Firefighters had built containment lines around 85 percent of the blaze as of Monday, and residents of nearby homes were no longer on standby to evacuate. Crews and equipment were starting to be sent to other fires burning around the West.

The fire 2 miles north of the Breckenridge ski area hasn't spread significantly was burning on less than 1 square mile.

Elsewhere, residents who fled a rural Arizona community over the weekend because of a wildfire that destroyed three homes have returned.

Pinal County authorities said residents of Dudleyville, about 100 miles southeast of Phoenix, were allowed home Sunday evening after crews stopped the fire's growth.

The blaze burned half a square mile of salt cedar primarily along the San Pedro River and was 60 percent contained as of late Sunday.

In New Mexico, firefighters were mopping up a wildfire that sent a tall plume of smoke from mountains overlooking Albuquerque late last week.

British Columbia

Firefighters were contending with more than 200 wildfires burning in British Columbia that had destroyed dozens of buildings, including several homes and two airport hangars.

The three biggest fires, which have grown in size to range from 9 to 19 square miles, had forced thousands to flee.

"We are just, in many ways, at the beginning of the worst part of the fire season and we watch the weather, we watch the wind, and we pray for rain," outgoing Premier Christy Clark told reporters in Kamloops.

Rob Schweizer, manager of the Kamloops Fire Centre, said it had been an unprecedented 24 hours.

"We probably haven't seen this sort of activity that involves so many residences and people in the history of the province of BC," he said.

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