(Reuters) - Some residents of a historic gold-mining town in central California may be able to go home on Friday as a wildfire nearby slowed its progress after destroying dozens of houses over the past several days, the local sheriff said.
About 2,000 residents of the town of Mariposa in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains fled their homes on Tuesday as the so-called Detwiler Fire approached. It eventually destroyed 99 structures, including 50 houses, in the area, according to local and state officials.
"We are in very detailed conversations about repopulation," Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies said during a community meeting on the fire on Thursday. He said authorities hoped people from Mariposa could go home on Friday.
At total of 5,000 residents in the small communities on the edge of Yosemite National Park have been evacuated since the fire began on Sunday. The community of Coulterville was evacuated on Wednesday.
The fire, which has burned 70,596 acres (28,570 hectares), is just 10 percent contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on its website.
After expanded by more than 22,000 acres overnight, the fire's progress slowed on Thursday, taking only 500 acres during the day, Cal Fire said.
"Except for (Wednesday), this fire doubled in size every day," Tim Chavez, a state fire official said during the community meeting. "That is really unusual for it to progress like that."
More than 3,700 firefighters, working in temperatures of 90 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit (32 to 36 Celsius), were battling the fire, Cal Fire said.
Chavez blamed the fire's growth on spot fires, drought and grassy vegetation. The area's rough topography made fighting the fire harder, he said.
"I am not try to make excuses ... it's been a tough fire for us," he said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in Montana, officials said that a 19-year-old fireman was killed on Wednesday when part of a tree fell on him while he was fighting the so-called Florence Fire north of Seeley Lake.
A total of 44 large fires across 11 western states were burning on Thursday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center's website.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, editing by Larry King)