(Reuters) - Weakening winds on Wednesday enabled firefighters in Southern California to begin to corral two raging wildfires that critically injured two frontline crew members and had threatened tens of thousands of homes, authorities said.
Fire authorities reported significant progress in setting up containment lines around the two Orange County blazes, the latest eruptions in a year in which the state’s hills, valleys and forests have been scorched throughout its North-South span.
With crews of more than 1,300 fighting the two blazes, the Orange County Fire Authority said containment of the Silverado fire had widened to 25% from 5% on Tuesday, after it tore through 13,354 acres (5,404 hectares).
“The most important thing is we’ve had zero homes lost,” OCFA Captain Ben Gonzalez said in a video briefing, crediting fire crews for keeping the flames away from residences.
Two firefighters, who were critically injured with second- and third-degree burns when the fire erupted on Monday, were still hospitalized on Wednesday, an OCFA spokesman said.
After ordering more than 100,000 county residents from their homes on Tuesday, officials lifted most evacuation orders by Wednesday afternoon, including those for the city of Irvine in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains south of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the Blue Ridge fire near Yorba Linda, which destroyed one structure and damaged seven others, was 16% contained by early Wednesday after not being contained at all on Tuesday and burning through 14,334 acres (5,801 hectares), the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said.
Winds have steadily slowed since the outbreak of the blazes, prompting the National Weather Service to downgrade its fire threat risk to moderate on Wednesday and minor for the rest of the week.
“With favorable weather, fire crews will find opportunities to establish more control lines,” CalFire said in a statement.
Across the state, nearly 5,000 crew members were still battling 22 wildfires on Wednesday, and had successfully contained 23 new ones, it said.
Wildfires this year have ravaged California, scorching more than 6,400 square miles (16,500 square km) - equivalent to the land mass of the state of Hawaii - since the start of the year, with 31 lives lost and thousands of homes destroyed.
Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Tom Brown
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