California wildfire evacuations lifted after firefighters contain 50 per cent of blaze

The Associated Press
June 16, 2014 04:38 AM

The Shirley Fire continues to burn Sunday, June 15, 2014 near Rancheria Road in the Alta Sierra area viewed from the Highway 178 area with the Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church and three crosses in the foreground in Lake Isabella, Calif. (AP Photo/The Bakersfield Californian, Casey Christie)

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. - All evacuation orders were lifted Monday evening after firefighters made significant progress containing 50 per cent of a smoky mountain wildfire west of a lake near Bakersfield, California, 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 U.S. Forest Service said in a statement.

The blaze charred more than 4 square miles (10.4 square kilometres) of trees and brush in and around Sequoia National Forest and also threatened power lines and communications facilities.

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(64 kilometres) 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 (1,200 metres) in a popular outdoor recreation area.

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