LOS ANGELES.- Firefighters toiled in stifling heat Saturday on the lines of destructive wildfires across the U.S. West, making progress against some blazes while struggling to tame others that have forced evacuations of hundreds of homes.
In heat-stricken Southern California, powerful winds that sent an overnight inferno hopscotching through the Santa Barbara County community of Goleta vanished in the morning, allowing firefighters to extinguish smoldering ruins of an estimated 20 structures, including homes.
Authorities announced that mandatory evacuation orders were being greatly reduced and many of the 2,500 people who fled Friday night would be able to return home by late afternoon.
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County Fire Chief Eric Peterson thanked residents for heeding the call to evacuate, allowing firefighters to focus on fire suppression rather than rescues.
“There very likely would have been fatalities last night had those evacuations not occurred,” Peterson said.
The fire’s spread was stopped at about 100 acres (40.5 hectares) in a neighborhood where some houses were in ruins while homes next door were intact.
Eric Durtschi stood outside his destroyed house, where a burned-out car stood in the driveway and kids’ bicycles were strewn about.
Durtschi, his wife and six children had left Utah and moved in just a few weeks ago. He said he hadn’t yet told his two oldest children their home was gone. He managed to collect his severely burned vintage guns, hoping to salvage them.
A neighbor’s home across the street was spared. The man had stayed through the night spraying down other people’s houses.
Elsewhere in Southern California, firefighters increased containment of a central San Diego County fire that rapidly spread over 400 acres (162 hectares), destroyed 18 structures and damaged eight, and a wildfire in the San Bernardino National Forest was holding at 1.5 square miles (404 hectares) and forced evacuation of about 700 homes in the mountain community of Forest Falls.
Fires also burned on the Marine Corps’ sprawling Camp Pendleton base in northern San Diego County.
Among new fires Saturday, a blaze erupted on a steep mountain slope just above the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank and helicopters pounded it with water to try to keep it from getting out of hand.
Southern California fires began erupting Friday as strong high pressure over the West spawned an epic heat wave that saw parts of Los Angeles broil in temperatures up to 117 degrees (47.2 Celsius). There was little relief overnight.