LOWER LAKE, Calif. — Days after nearly losing her summer home to one California wildfire, Nicole Ruff breathed a sigh of relief after learning that firefighters and a firebreak cleared by her husband had saved it from a second blaze.
She and her family were among a number of residents who have evacuated twice in two weeks from Lower Lake, about 100 miles north of San Francisco.
"This is something I've never experienced before," the 25-year-old Ruff, who fled the fires with her husband and three children, said Thursday. "It made me rethink everything in life."
Crews battling the wind-stoked blaze took advantage of cooler temperatures Thursday to clear brush and expand containment lines with bulldozers and hand tools.
Plumes of smoke rose from charred hillsides in Lake County, as lines of fire trucks filled rural roads and helicopters dropped water on the blaze.
"It looks like a big cloud over the highway," said Heather Wood of Clearlake. "We had to cover our faces as we were driving through it."
Wood's asthma forced her to evacuate during the previous fire. She and her family were ready to go again if necessary.
The latest fire had burned 37 square miles of thick brush and oak trees in Lake and Napa counties. It was threatening 50 structures, mostly homes, and was 33 percent contained.
It was one of 14 wildfires in California being fought by about 12,000 firefighters, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Temperatures have been relatively mild, but gusty winds and dry conditions have stoked the flames of the fire near Lower Lake.
Crews have gotten help from the fire itself, as its northern flank has merged with the earlier blaze that was nearly contained, said Daniel Berlant, a Calfire spokesman.
"That stopped the fire from spreading any further," he said.
About 2,000 firefighters took a stand against the flames — most reassigned from the first fire that destroyed 43 homes and charred 109 square miles.
The latest fire began Sunday in dry timber and brush several miles from the community of Lower Lake. It spread into Napa County, but no vineyards were threatened in the famous wine-growing region.
Ruff and her family left their home for the second time on Saturday and later learned it had been saved. She is currently in Oroville with her three children waiting for the fire to be contained.
Her husband was still in Lake County after volunteering to help fight the blaze.
The causes of both fires were under investigation.
Elsewhere in the country, evacuations were ordered in northern Idaho and a massive fire straddling the Idaho-Oregon border grew to 340 square miles.
At least 15 square miles of primary sage grouse habitat has burned. Habitat will be a key consideration this fall when federal officials are expected to decide if the birds need protection under the Endangered Species Act.
In Oregon, residents of 57 homes were under evacuation orders and dozens more were told to be ready to leave as two wildfires burned near Baker City.
In Boise, federal officials at the National Interagency Fire Center raised the national preparedness level to its highest point due to increased fires across the West.
The decision means additional assistance from the military and international help can be requested.
Bishara reported from Phoenix. AP writers Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco contributed to this report.