Gains made in fighting California wildfires but threat persists

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 19, 2015 2:45 PM

By Kevin Murphy

(Reuters) - Firefighters were gaining ground on two major wildfires in drought-stricken California on Saturday as the tally of destroyed homes rises and searchers look for more people reported missing, officials said.

The so-called Valley Fire, which is just north of the wine-producing region of Napa Valley, has burned 74,500 acres (29,946 hectares), according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), or more than double the size of the city of San Francisco. It has destroyed 585 homes and taken three lives.

“The fire is not progressing any longer, which is good,” Cal Fire Captain Lucas Spelman said on Saturday. "We are in the stage of being able to go in there and mop up."

The other major fire in California is the so-called Butte Fire, burning for more than a week about 100 miles (160 km) east of the Sierra Nevada foothills in the state’s Gold Rush Country. The fire has burned 70,760 acres (28,327 hectares), destroyed 503 homes and killed two people.

Fire officials say the two blazes represent an intense wildfire season that could become one of the state's fiercest on record as the next six weeks, historically the worst period of the year, still lie ahead.

In the Valley Fire, search parties are using cadaver dogs and other resources to look for any additional victims of the fire, Spelman said. Officials said they are not sure how many people are considered missing.

Officials said they would allow residents of some communities evacuated in advance of the Valley Fire to return to their homes on Saturday.

Firefighters have made some progress containing the Butte Fire but it still being fought by a crew of more than 4,000, Josh Rubinstein, a spokesman for Cal Fire, said on Saturday.

“The temperature is increasing and the humidity is dropping,” Rubinstein said. “The incident commander is being very cautious in releasing too many resources too soon.”

Many trees charred by the fire are in danger of falling down and are being removed as needed, Rubinstein said. He was not aware of anyone missing in the area of the fire.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Editing by Franklin Paul)