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Crews battling Yosemite wildfire lift evacuation orders for hundreds of homes

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July 29, 2014: A plane drops fire retardant as firefighters battle a blaze in El Portal, Calif., near Yosemite National Park. Firefighters in the state are also battling another wildfire in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento. (AP Photo/Al Golub)

Fire crews gained ground Tuesday on two of the largest wildfires in California, lifting evacuation orders for about half the homes in the path of a blaze in Yosemite National Park and redeploying firefighters battling another fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento.

The fire in the foothills, which forced the evacuation of more than 400 homes, was 85 percent contained after burning 6 1/2 square miles.

Crews discovered six more homes destroyed by the fire, bringing the total to 19, state fire Battalion Chief Scott McLean said. The fire, which began Friday, also has claimed 48 outbuildings.

Some firefighters were released Monday and more were expected to be taken off the blaze Tuesday. The total fire force was down to around 1,600, about 300 fewer firefighters than Sunday.

The Yosemite fire about 100 miles away, had burned through 5 1/2 square miles and was 34 percent contained. It forced the evacuation of about 100 homes after it began on Saturday.

Residents of Old El Portal were permitted to return home Tuesday. About 45 homes in the community of Foresta remained evacuated, park fire information spokeswoman Jennifer Wuchner said.

Both fires grew rapidly over the weekend before being brought under control. Their spread underscored the tinder-dry conditions resulting from California's third year of drought.

Residents of the Sierra foothills fire said they were forced to evacuate quickly, and some vowed to keep a list of items to take with them in case of another blaze.

Laurel Fulton, a 66-year-old evacuee, had to leave 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 said the fire was so hot and so fast, the sand along a nearby river burned to glass. She managed to rescue four dogs, a cat and her other horse. She said her neighbor stayed behind and has been reporting that her horse is OK.

Fire crews also were battling a 3-square-mile blaze in the Sierra National Forest about 60 miles northeast of Fresno that shut down some campgrounds and was threatening 28 structures, some of them homes.

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