Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO — Thousands of firefighters across California were contending with dry conditions, strong winds and triple-digit temperatures Tuesday as they battled raging wildfires that left some areas with smoke lingering in the air.
In Northern California, hundreds of evacuees were allowed to return home as crews made progress against a wildfire that has grown to nearly 11 square miles.
The blaze in Lake County was 60 percent contained after nearly threatening 500 homes in the Spring Valley and Long Valley communities, state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.
Those homeowners have been allowed to return home, as the fire was more active on the eastern edge, which is unpopulated and has plenty of open brush.
"We made some good progress despite the fact we did see a lot of fire activity within the perimeter," Berlant said.
Berlant said while the more than 1,200 firefighters at the scene were putting out hot spots, they still faced dry conditions and temperatures of nearly 100 degrees.
A home and two structures have been destroyed in the fire, officials said.
Also in far Northern California, the Chips Fire in the Plumas National Forest jumped containment lines Tuesday as it threatened more than 900 homes and prompted evacuation orders in the Seneca and Rush Creek communities.
Blowing embers helped spread the blaze along its southern end, and a thunderstorm that moved into the area forced some firefighters to pull back, said fire spokeswoman Alissa Tanner.
"The day was not a good day," Tanner said. "We had some issues with that southern end of fire."
The blaze has consumed more than 58 square miles and was 20 percent contained.
A smoke advisory issued by Plumas County health officials Monday remained in effect.
The two blazes, as well as a fire in Solano County, affected air quality in the region as a thick haze enveloped the area. People in the Sacramento Valley could smell the smoke.
Winds likely carried the smoke into the valley, Christina Ragsdale, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, said Tuesday.
"We definitely had some smoke problems overnight, but it has improved very significantly today," Ragsdale said.
In Southern California, residents in sparsely populated parts of Riverside and San Diego counties were told to evacuate their homes as several wildfires burned in the desert heat.
A blaze near the community of Aguanga, east of Temecula, started shortly before 1 p.m. and quickly surged to nearly 3 square miles. Firefighters aided by six air tankers including a DC-10 capable of dropping thousands of gallons of retardant had it 5 percent contained some five hours later, Riverside County fire officials said.
Fifteen homes were evacuated and at least one was destroyed. News helicopters showed the two-story house enveloped in flames. Officials said a total of four structures had burned, but it was unclear how many were homes.
Animal control officials were helping homeowners remove livestock and pets from the area, including a dozen alpacas evacuated from a farm.
Some 40 miles away, in northeastern San Diego County, residents in Ranchita were told to evacuate as one of four lightning-sparked fires came dangerously close to rural ranch houses. Those fires have burned about 3.5 square miles.
The four fires that make up the so-called Vallecito Lightning complex now total about 9 squre miles, and the fire is 10 percent contained, said CalFire spokeswoman Roxanne Provaznik.
Firefighters have nearly 23 miles of containment line to construct, and two firefighters have been injured, she said.
Elsewhere in Southern California, a wildfire in Joshua Tree National Park burned 273 acres and was 60 percent contained. Firefighters said they expect that fire will be under control by Friday night.
Associated Press writers John Antczak, Andrew Dalton and Shaya Mohajer in Los Angeles, and John S. Marshall in San Francisco contributed to this report.
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