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Weather Gives Firefighters an Advantage In Lake County Blaze

August 21, 1996

Hundreds of people evacuated from communities near a Northern California resort have been allowed to return home as weather and the Army help firefighters battling to contain an 73,600-acre forest fire.

More than 4,000 firefighters were joined Tuesday by 600 soldiers from Fort Carson, Colo., to fight the blaze surrounding the popular Clear Lake area about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

``I think we’ve turned the corner on this one,″ California Department of Forestry spokesman Bruce Hagen said. ``Everybody’s very optimistic. The fire lines have been holding up very well because we have more equipment, more manpower and the weather has been cooperating.″

Winds died down Tuesday and temperatures rose only into the 80s, compared to readings above 100 last week. However, temperatures were expected back in the low 90s today, with higher readings again this week.

About 400 structures had been threatened by the fire, one of dozens throughout the West in what has become one of the fiercest fire seasons in years.

By Tuesday night, residents were told they could move back and most roads were reopened. However, the fire, which began Aug. 11, was only 30 percent contained.

Forests, brush and grass also were burning elsewhere in California and in parts of Arizona, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Colorado.

A group of fires started by lightning had burned roughly 42,700 acres by today and were still threatening 22 historic homesteader cabins inside Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada. However, the flames had turned away from Tuolumne City.

On the central California coast, a 100,000-acre fire in the Los Padres National Forest near San Luis Obispo destroyed a cabin used by biologists to monitor captive-bred condors after their release into the wild.

Firefighters had surrounded only about half of that blaze with firebreaks, California Department of Forestry spokeswoman Nena Portillo said.

Fire crews in Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado had deflected a 4,700-acre blaze away from the park’s buildings.

However, park officials had not yet determined damage to an area of prehistoric cliff dwellings in the park’s Soda Canyon. The ruins have stone walls but timber roofs, and heat can chip the surface of stone carvings called petroglyphs.

``Where the fire burned is one of the largest concentrations of ruins in the park,″ park Ranger Linda Martin said. ``From a visitor’s perspective they may not be as impressive, but from an archaeologist’s standpoint they are very impressive and very valuable.″

Oregon’s biggest fire, a 109,000-acre blaze that destroyed 11 houses on the Warm Springs Indiana Reservation, was contained Tuesday, as was a 70,000-acre grass fire in southeastern Montana.

It could be November before the Warm Springs fire is declared under control because of the extremely rugged terrain, said Roland Emetaz, fire spokesman for the Northwest Coordination Center in Portland.

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