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More go home as progress is made against California fire


Scorched cars and trailers line a residential street in Phelan, California (AP)

Scorched cars and trailers line a residential street in Phelan, California (AP)

Scorched cars and trailers line a residential street in Phelan, California (AP)

Firefighters have made significant progress against a huge wildfire burning in Southern California's San Bernardino National Forest, allowing more people to return home.

The move was tempered by the announcement that at least 96 homes and 213 outbuildings were destroyed.

Johanna Santore was among those left homeless. She was running an errand on Tuesday when the fire charged through her neighbourhood. She tried to get home to rescue the family's four dogs, six cats and hamster but was blocked by closed roads.

Frantic for answers, she posted messages about her pets on Facebook. A group of animal rescue volunteers saw her pleas and offered to check on the animals. They found the house in smouldering ruins - with no sign of the pets.

"I'm actually feeling numb," said Santore, who fled with her husband and granddaughter to an evacuation centre. "It's like a nightmare."

Thousands of residents chased from their mountain and desert homes were slowly beginning to take stock of their losses as the preliminary damage assessment was released for the blaze that erupted on Tuesday in drought-parched canyons 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

Firefighters initially struggled to get the towering flames under control but later made dramatic progress in corralling the fire that scorched nearly 58 square miles and was 40% contained. Plans were under way to demobilise some of the nearly 1,600 firefighters.

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"It's looking very good, we took the offensive last night into today," fire spokesman Brad Pitassi said.

He said the number of destroyed homes and buildings could have been much higher for such a powerful fire.

Katie and Johnathon Havens piled their one-year-old son into their vehicle as flames neared.

The Havens thought they had lost everything when a map of the fire was released. They later discovered their house was intact after they were able to access a camera they had placed inside the home.

"It's very comforting to know the house is still there," Katie Havens said. "I'm pretty sure we're going to go back and have neighbours who don't have homes any more. The community is never going to be the same."

A prolonged drought has transformed swathes of California into tinderboxes, ready to ignite. Several other wildfires were burning in the state, including a blaze in rural Santa Barbara County that prompted the evacuation of a pair of campsites.

In the southern Sierra Nevada, another blaze feeding on dense timber in Sequoia National Forest forced the evacuation of several tiny hamlets.

In mountains north of San Francisco, a six-square-mile blaze was 75% contained after destroying 299 structures, including 175 homes and eight businesses, in the working-class community of Lower Lake. All evacuation orders have been cancelled.

At the height of the fire east of Los Angeles, some 82,000 people were under evacuation orders. A small number of residents have been allowed to return home, but fire officials could not say when all the evacuations would be lifted.


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