Some evacuation orders lifted in California wildfire areas

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

Some evacuations were lifted as cooler weather gave firefighters a boost in their struggle with a wildfire burning through dry brush that is threatening hundreds of structures in a remote area of California's Santa Cruz Mountains.

Mandatory evacuations were lifted Wednesday for Santa Cruz County but evacuation orders remained in effect for neighboring Santa Clara County, where most of the 300 threatened structures are located, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

The wildfire had charred more than 4 square miles and was 22 percent contained by Wednesday evening, said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Scott McLean.

A 10-degree drop in temperatures and increased humidity helped fire crews. The cooling trend was expected to last through the week.

"Tomorrow is expected to be much cooler and each day will get progressively better but we still have very active fire behavior," McLean said.

The blaze won't be fully contained before next week, McLean estimated.

It was among three blazes burning in Northern California during a time of year when the drought-stricken state sees its largest and most damaging wildfires, state forestry officials said.

The blaze broke out Monday during a statewide heat wave that brought witheringly low humidity and temperatures in the upper 90s.

It gutted at least one home and threatened 300 buildings, though it was not clear how many were homes or smaller structures.

The area is dotted with marijuana growing operations, though the number of plants at risk is unclear. When Anthony Lopez returned to check on his home, which was still under an evacuation order, he was overjoyed to find dozens of his marijuana plants intact Tuesday.

Though the vast majority of California's marijuana is planted north of San Francisco, growers still find remote, densely forested land popular places to cultivate pot.

This summer, firefighters in nearby Monterey County rescued several pot farmers trapped for three days by a fast-moving wildfire. The growers said 900 plants were destroyed. No arrests were made after police said the evidence went up in smoke.

This week, cooler temperatures and calmer winds were expected to help more than 1,000 firefighters battling the flames that flourished over days of withering heat, said Capt. Nick Wallingford of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"The cooling trend is very good news, but there's still a big threat," he said Wednesday. "Today, we're really going on the offensive in fighting this fire."

It started Monday during a heat wave that brought low humidity and temperatures in the upper 90s to much of California.

Norman Noble, 75, left the mountain home where he's lived for a quarter-century as flames approached and fire trucks rolled in.

"I evacuated ... because I didn't want to get in anyone's way," he told the San Jose Mercury News ( ), adding that he had no idea when he might be able to go back.

North of San Francisco, another fire destroyed four houses in the small city of Petaluma on Tuesday. It ignited in grass near Highway 101, and the wind blew it into parched eucalyptus trees. Embers from the flaming trees landed on the roofs of 13 homes.

Other property also was damaged, including burned backyard decks, sheds and windows, fire Battalion Chief Jeff Holden said. Authorities evacuated about 20 homes, and the only injury was to a woman who received burn blisters on the bottom of her foot.

Fire officials farther north say a grass fire that spread from the side of a highway into a row of homes in Petaluma, destroying four of them and damaging 10 others, may have been started by a cigarette.

East of Francisco, a wildfire started Monday when a driver on Highway 49 pulled over to rest and the car ignited dry grass, authorities determined. Firefighters were battling the 1-square-mile fire near the town of Mocassin, about 120 miles east of San Francisco.