Crews Make Gains Against CA Wildfire

PHELAN, Calif. (AP) -- The most successful day yet in fighting a massive and ferocious wildfire in Southern California also came with news of the blaze's destruction.

The blaze was 40 percent contained by the end of Friday and many evacuees were allowed to return to their homes in the city of Phelan, officials said.

"It's looking very good," said fire spokesman Brad Pitassi, adding that they expect more big gains and more residents returning home on Saturday.

It was revealed, however, that 96 homes and 213 outbuildings were destroyed by the blaze, most of them in its first fierce days on Tuesday and Wednesday.

More damage might still be discovered as firefighters pore through the aftermath of the fire that had burned 58 square miles about 60 miles east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County.

Johanna Santore was among those left homeless. She was running an errand Tuesday when the fire charged through her neighborhood. She tried to rush home to rescue the family's four dogs, six cats and hamster but was blocked by closed roads.

A group of animal rescue volunteers found the house in smoldering ruins — with no signs of the pets.

"I'm actually feeling numb," said Santore, who fled with her husband and granddaughter to an evacuation center. "It's like a nightmare."

A prolonged drought has transformed swaths of California into tinderboxes, ready to ignite. Several other wildfires were burning in the state, including a blaze in rural Santa Barbara County that prompted the evacuation of a pair of campgrounds.

In the southern Sierra Nevada, another blaze feeding on dense timber in Sequoia National Forest forced the evacuation of several tiny hamlets.

Another blaze burned in Santa Barbara County and forced the evacuation of a pair of campgrounds during the height of the summer season.

In mountains north of San Francisco, a 6-square-mile blaze was 75 percent contained after destroying 299 structures, including 175 homes and eight businesses, in the working-class community of Lower Lake. All evacuation orders have been canceled.

At the height of the fire east of Los Angeles, some 82,000 people were under evacuation orders. Many residents have been allowed to return home, but fire officials could not say when all the evacuations would be lifted.

No deaths have been reported and the cause of the fire was under investigation. Crews continued to sift through burned regions to tally the damage.

The Santores weren't as lucky. Volunteers who drove to their house found a moonscape. Some of the neighbors' homes were still standing, seemingly intact.

Before the fire roared through, Johanna Santore had redecorated her granddaughter's room in a zebra pattern and added a loft bed.

"We don't plan on rebuilding," she said. "We plan on leaving."