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Evacuees return, damage measured as western wildfires wane

This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows the Rancho Alegre Outdoor School camp. which suffered extensive damage from the Whittier Fire near Santa Barbara, Calif., Monday, July 7, 2017. In Southern California, thousands of people remained out of their homes as a pair of fires raged at different ends of Santa Barbara County. The fires broke out amid a blistering weekend heat wave that toppled temperature records. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

Relief was arriving after a rough stretch of wildfires all around the U.S. West, with firefighters slowly surrounding once-fierce blazes and evacuees starting to stream back home.

Officials on Wednesday downgraded the number of structures threatened by a Northern California fire from several thousand to roughly 600. Authorities surveying the damage said at least 41 homes and 55 other buildings had been destroyed near the town of Oroville.

Some residents had returned home after fleeing the flames in the grassy foothills of the Sierra Nevada, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Sacramento, but thousands remained evacuated as the fire entered its fifth day.

The blaze burned nearly 9 square miles (23 square kilometers) and injured four firefighters. Containment was more than half.

Crews were making progress against dozens of wildfires across the western U.S.


In Colorado, crews were winding down the fight against a wildfire that temporarily forced hundreds of people to evacuate near the resort town of Breckenridge. Firefighters built containment lines around at least 85 percent of the blaze.

In Arizona, recent monsoon rain has helped stop the growth of a wildfire in mountains overlooking Tucson and an evacuation order for the summer-retreat community of Summerhaven has been lifted.

In Nevada, fire crews were getting the upper hand on a wildland blaze that shut down U.S. Interstate 80 along the Nevada-California line most of Tuesday.

Three new California fires made trouble Tuesday.

One of them, just east of San Jose, destroyed two homes before its growth was stopped.

Another broke out in San Diego County and quickly surged to over half a square mile (1.5 square kilometers). It forced the temporary closure of Interstate 8 and the brief evacuation of 15 families in Alpine, a town of 15,000 people about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of San Diego.

In Northern California, the Placer County Sheriff's Office issued mandatory evacuations along four roads near a 2-acre fire burning north of Auburn.

In Santa Barbara County, at least 3,500 people remained out of their homes due to a pair of fires. The larger of the two charred more than 45 square miles (116 square kilometers) of dry brush and has burned 20 structures since it broke out. To the south, crews are working to fully contain an 18-square-mile (46-square-kilometer) wildfire that destroyed 20 structures.

Elsewhere, investigators have determined that lightning ignited a wildfire that has burned about 3 square miles (8 square kilometers) of timber in a southeast Wyoming national forest. The fire burning in the Keystone area of Medicine Bow National Forest began July 3.

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