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Some residents evacuated by wildfire near Yosemite allowed to go home as crews gain upper hand

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A chimney stands amid the remains of a burnt structure near Oakhurst, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. A wildfire that forced about 1,000 people from their homes in the foothills near Yosemite National Park held steady Tuesday as humidity and calmer winds aided the fight against the second blaze around the park in recent weeks. (AP Photo/Scott Smith) (The Associated Press)

Firefighters gained ground Tuesday on a blaze in the foothills near Yosemite National Park, allowing some of the 1,000 people who fled the flames to return to their homes.

Nearly 1 square mile in Madera County had been scorched, revising earlier estimates that it had spanned about twice as much ground, state fire officials said.

Flames erupted Monday near Oakhurst, a community of several thousand about 16 miles from a Yosemite entrance, forcing more than 1,000 people to evacuate and thousands more to prepare to leave their homes. Some residents were allowed to go home, but sheriff's spokeswoman Erica Stuart could not provide an estimate of how many.

Crews contained 30 percent of the fire, aided by humidity and calmer winds. Additional firefighters had been brought in to attack the blaze fueled a day earlier by gusty winds and dry brush.

"We're not seeing the fire expand like we thought," Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said Tuesday.

The blaze that destroyed eight structures did not affect Yosemite National Park, and the road leading visitors to the park reopened Tuesday. It once threatened about 500 homes, but the risk has been minimized, officials say.

The fire comes amid California's third straight year of drought, creating tinder-dry conditions that have significantly increased the fire danger around the state and sent firefighters scrambling seemingly nonstop from blaze to blaze.

Evacuated residents in Oakhurst said they had braced for the worst.

"There is nothing you can do when a fire is raging," said Clement Williams, 67. "You just have to flee. It's a real sinking feeling."

Williams and his wife, Gretchen Williams, 63, were trying to get information about the fire and their home from officials. They spent the night at a nearby hotel.

Oakhurst was smoky, and businesses downtown were closed as the fire burned about a mile away. Flames were not visible from the downtown area as they moved away from town toward a nearby reservoir and resort community, state fire spokesman Chris Christopherson said.

Wes Qualls, 50, was visiting Yosemite from Katy, Texas, with his wife and 9-year-old son, but they were cut off from their motel in Oakhurst by the fire. They found a room for the night in a nearby town but planned to cut the trip short.

"I was one of the lucky ones," he said. "Some people spent the night in their cars."

The fire comes on the heels of another blaze around Yosemite this summer and last year's Rim Fire, which raged for two months across 400 square miles of land including part of Yosemite National Park. The Rim Fire threatened thousands of structures, destroyed 11 homes and cost more than $125 million to fight.

Last month's fire, which also burned in the park, threatened about 100 homes and sent smoke into Yosemite's famed valley before it was brought under control.

Meanwhile, firefighters on Tuesday stopped the growth of a blaze some 50 miles northeast of Bakersfield.

The wildfire burning near Lake Isabella in Kern County that grew exponentially Monday was 5 percent contained Tuesday after scorching some 5 square miles, or 3,367 acres.

The brought recommended evacuation orders for about 200 homes in several neighborhoods, the U.S. Forest Service said. A Red Cross evacuation center was set up at Kern Valley High School in Lake Isabella.

Some structures burned, but it wasn't immediately clear how many or if any were homes, Thill said. There was no containment of the fire Tuesday afternoon.

More than 450 firefighters with air support were battling the flames in steep terrain amid low humidity and high temperatures.

___

Associated Press writers Chris Weber in Los Angeles and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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