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DISASTERS

Relieved evacuees return home after fleeing Northern California wildfire that burned 13 homes

  • a52d004772a1341d5b0f6a7067007579.jpg

    A sign on the highway thanking fire crews fighting the Sand Fire in the rugged foothills of El Dorado county near Plymouth, Calif., on Monday, July 28, 2014, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater) (The Associated Press)

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    Cal Fire crew members mop up embers of the Sand Fire in the rugged foothills of El Dorado county near Plymouth, Calif., on Monday, July 28, 2014, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater) (The Associated Press)

Most of the 1,200 people driven to evacuate by a Northern California wildfire that destroyed 13 homes have been told they can safely return after a series of steady gains in the firefight.

The evacuees included Fred and Carolyn Shults, who had to flee the wildfire in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento when billowing flames bore down on them.

On Monday at a Red Cross shelter, they hugged friends and neighbors when they heard from a firefighter friend that their home was still standing.

It was a welcome change from the weekend, when Caroline Shults scrolled through photos of the fire on her phone, hoping she wouldn't see her 100 apple trees or her home.

The couple has been wildfire conscious after several scares, ensuring they cleared vegetation. But the Sand fire, which officials trace to a hot car in dry grass, reminded them of the limits of preparation.

"Wildfires are so uncontrollable, and people can start them so easily without knowing what they're doing," said Fred Shults.

They also didn't anticipate how quickly they would have to evacuate, vowing to keep a list of items to leave with next time.

Laurel Fulton, a 66-year-old fellow evacuee, knows that lesson well after leaving behind an obstinate horse.

"When the sheriff is banging on your window yelling 'Get out now, get out now,' you don't have much of a choice," Fulton said.

Fulton also said the fire was so hot and so fast the sand along a nearby river had burned to glass and she saw ashes the size of dollar bills. She also managed to rescue 4 dogs, a cat and her other horse. She said her neighbor stayed behind and has been reporting that her horse is OK.

Only a small number of evacuees in roughly a square mile patch of land remained out their homes.

Crews held the fire to a little under 6 square miles, increasing containment to 75 percent Monday, state fire Battalion Chief Scott McLean said.

"We're not going to get complacent, but it's looking very good," McLean said.

A private drone trying to record footage of the fire nearly hindered efforts to attack the flames from the air Monday, state fire officials said. The man controlling the drone was told to stop it because of the potential danger to firefighting planes. He was not cited.

The fire has destroyed 13 homes and 38 other structures near wine-growing regions in Amador and El Dorado counties since it started Friday.

Another fire about 100 miles away had burned through a little more than 4 square miles of brush and trees in Yosemite National Park, the neighboring Stanislaus National Forest and private land Monday and was sending smoke into Yosemite's famed valley.

It was 5 percent contained after destroying one home.

An estimated 100 homes in Foresta and the small community of Old El Portal remained under evacuation.

___

Thanawala reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer Scott Smith in Fresno contributed to this report.

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