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Evacuations lifted over Southern California wildfire

US president Donald Trump attacked the state’s governor as he threatened to cut aid funding.

Smoke from the Maria Fire billows above Santa Paula (AP)
Smoke from the Maria Fire billows above Santa Paula (AP)

By Christopher Weber

Californian authorities have lifted all evacuation orders as firefighters made progress on a large blaze that led to thousands of people fleeing homes and farms north-west of Los Angeles.

Ventura County fire captain Steve Kaufmann said crews working in steep terrain were damping down hotspots and keeping an eye on lingering gusts in mountain areas that could carry embers.

“I’d say we’re cautiously optimistic,” Capt Kaufmann said, citing calmer winds overall and rising humidity levels.

Firefighters have contained 70% of the blaze, which has burned nearly 15 square miles of dry brush and timber. Three buildings were destroyed.

More than 11,000 people evacuated after the flames spread on October 31 during dry winds that fanned fires across the state this autumn.

In his first recent comments on the California fires, US president Donald Trump threatened to cut US aid funding to the state.

California governor Gavin Newsom has done a “terrible job of forest management”, Mr Trump tweeted.

When fires rage, the governor comes to the federal government for help. “No more,” the president tweeted.

Mr Newsom replied with a tweet of his own: “You don’t believe in climate change. You are excused from this conversation.”

California has increased fire prevention investment and fuel management projects in recent years while federal funding has shrunk, the governor’s office said.

“We’re successfully waging war against thousands of fires started across the state in the last few weeks due to extreme weather created by climate change while Trump is conducting a full on assault against the antidotes,” Mr Newsom said.

The state controls just 3% of forest land in California, while the federal government owns 57%, according to numbers provided by Mr Newsom’s office. About 40% of the state’s forest are privately owned. Neither of the two major fires currently burning are on forest land.

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A charred lawn chair overlooks a valley filled with smoke from the Kincade Fire near Healdsburg (AP)

Last year, Mr Trump made a similar threat as wildfires devastated Malibu and Paradise, California – accusing the state of “gross mismanagement” of forests.

At the time, Mr Newsom defended California’s wildfire prevention efforts while criticising the federal government for not doing enough to help protect the state.

In Northern California, more people returned to areas evacuated from a huge fire that burned for days in the Sonoma County wine country.

The 121-square-mile fire was 76% contained on Sunday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

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The Maria Fire on October 31 (AP)

The tally of destroyed homes reached 175 and there were 35 more damaged, authorities said. Many other structures also burned.

The causes of both fires are under investigation but there is a possibility that power lines might have been involved – as was the case at other recent fires.

Utility firm Southern California Edison said it had re-energised a 16,000-volt power line 13 minutes before the fire erupted in the same area of Ventura County.

Edison and other utilities around the state shut off power to hundreds of thousands of people last week amid concerns that high winds could cause power lines to spark and start fires.

Southern California Edison will cooperate with investigators, the utility said.

PA

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