Crews make progress against California wildfires

LOS ANGELES Tue Sep 13, 2011 4:11pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Cooler weather gave firefighters a chance to begin knocking down flames of three major wildfires burning on Tuesday in Central California, and evacuation orders were lifted for most residents in the fires' path.

The three fires combined have blackened more than 70,000 acres across Kern County, injuring three firefighters and threatening more than 2,000 structures since they were started over the weekend by lightning strikes.

But no homes have been lost, Kern County Fire Engineer Anthony Romero said, and cool, moist air has allowed firefighters to make substantial progress against all three.

"We're doing a good job, the crews are doing a great job trying to contain these fires. The weather is currently in our favor so the crews are jumping on that," Romero said.

Of the three major blazes, only the Breckenridge Complex fire remained a threat to homes. That fire has burned more than 29,000 acres east of Bakersfield at the edge of the Sequoia National Forest.

But the blaze, which began as three separate fires on Saturday touched off by a dry lightning storm, was 40 percent contained as crews worked in difficult, steep terrain to cut a line around the flames.

Romero said about 30 structures, mostly vacation homes, were under a precautionary evacuation order because the Breckenridge fire was still headed toward them, although it did not present an imminent danger.

Two schools in the Caliente School District, between Tehachapi and Lake Isabella, remained closed on Tuesday and all 71 students were told to stay home.

"We've had fires all around us, we've had a lot of smoke and we've had a lot of equipment going up and down our little mountain road," Caliente School Superintendent Kathleen Hansen told Reuters.

All evacuation orders had been lifted in the path of the Comanche Complex fire, which has so far charred nearly 30,000 acres southeast of Bakersfield but was 60 percent contained by Tuesday afternoon.

The Comanche, made up of four smaller fires, had forced at least 500 residents of the community of Stallion Springs from their homes before that evacuation order was lifted on Tuesday.

Romero said 136 fire crews, supported by bulldozers, air tankers and helicopters, had made good progress building containment lines around the Comanche overnight.

The Keene Complex fire, which has burned more than 10,000 acres, was 88 percent contained and no structures were threatened, Romero said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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