Some evacuation orders lifted in California wildfire areas

MORGAN HILL, Calif. (AP) — Some evacuations were lifted as cooler weather gave firefighters a boost in their struggle with a wildfire burning through dry brush that was threatening hundreds of structures Thursday in a remote area of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains.

Mandatory evacuations were lifted Wednesday for Santa Cruz County, but 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 in steep terrain south of San Jose had charred more than 6 square miles and was 22 percent contained by Thursday morning, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn said.

The blaze broke out Monday during a statewide heat wave that brought witheringly low humidity and temperatures in the upper 90s. A 10-degree drop in temperatures and increased humidity helped fire crews. The cooling trend was expected to last through the week.

The blaze won’t be fully contained before next week, officials estimated.

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

The fire gutted at least one home and threatened more than 325 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.

North of San Francisco, officials said a grass fire that spread from the side of a highway into a row of homes in Petaluma may have been started by a discarded cigarette. Four homes were destroyed and 10 were damaged.

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