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Firefighters make headway on 2 fires

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POSTED July 25, 2015 12:21 a.m.

WINTERS  (AP) — Firefighters made progress Friday against two wildfires in Northern California, allowing some people to return home outside Napa Valley after flames threatened hundreds of houses.

Crews battling a separate blaze in the Sierra Nevada had reopened one lane of a freeway linking Sacramento and Reno and were escorting traffic through the fire area.

About 45 miles east of wine country, officials called off evacuation orders for roughly 50 of 200 evacuated homes as a 10 ½-square-mile blaze calmed in the drought-parched countryside near Lake Berryessa, said Amy Head, state fire spokeswoman. Highway 128 also has reopened.

Kelly Campbell, who helped evacuate dozens of horses at her brother’s ranch, said she returned Thursday to check on things and retrieve a cat.

“There was ash everywhere and the planes were dropping all the retardant just across the street,” she said. “I did not want to stay there because the ash that was falling was hot.”

The fire’s cause is under investigation, but the state’s deep drought has helped it thrive.

“The conditions out there because of the drought have caused all of the fuel and vegetation to become extremely dry and readily available to burn, so it’s definitely contributed to how quickly the fire has spread,” Head said.

The most active part of the fire, which broke out Wednesday, was burning along a mountain range in a remote area several miles from the highway that feeds into the park for Lake Berryessa, one of the largest bodies of fresh water in California. It was 30 percent contained.

The fire is less than an hour’s drive to California’s famed Napa Valley wine country, but no vineyards were in immediate danger.

Businesses closer to the wildfires also say commerce is not affected, with customers buying wine and renting cabins and boats by Lake Berryessa.

Terry Sparkman, general manager of Pleasure Cove Resort & Marina, which is a few miles west of the wildfires, said people may have to drive an extra 40 miles to get there, but they do.

“You’re getting the last few weeks before school starts and getting all the fun you can,” he said.

The fire in the Sierra Nevada, southwest of Lake Tahoe, has charred more than 100 acres in heavy timber. It was burning on both sides of the American River and U.S. Highway 50, which was closed but for one lane about 60 miles east of Sacramento. The California Highway Patrol was escorting people through in both directions.


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