Crews make progress battling Southern California wildfire

Smoke from wildfires in southern California form on the horizon early in the morning.

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. — Firefighters made significant progress trying to tamp down a wildfire that threatened homes and has been raging for days south of Los Angeles, officials said Saturday.

Aircraft have been making flight after flight, dumping water and bright pink retardant to protect Lake Elsinore and other foothill communities as the fire sweeps through the dense, bone-dry brush of the Cleveland National Forest.

The Holy Fire — named for Holy Jim Canyon, where it began Monday — grew to nearly 33 square miles (85 square kilometers) by Saturday morning. But firefighters also made progress, with containment rising from 10 to 29 percent.

High temperatures and dry grass and brush have made it difficult for firefighters to get a handle on the blaze. Some hillsides were being allowed to burn under the watchful eyes of firefighters as a way to reduce fuel and make it harder for flames to jump roadways into communities if winds pick up again.

Although the fire burned a dozen forest cabins early on, only one home was lost Thursday as fire crews managed to fend off flames that stalked downhill and came right up to yards.

On Saturday, officials allowed some residents to return to their homes in Lake Elsinore, but others still remained under evacuation orders.

The man accused of deliberately starting the fire appeared in court on Friday, but his arraignment was postponed.

Forrest Clark, 51, made several outbursts, claiming his life was being threatened and saying the arson charge against him was a lie. A court commissioner ordered his bail to remain at $1 million.

The Holy Fire was one of nearly 20 blazes across California, which is seeing earlier, longer and more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into forests.

A fire that broke out near the communities of Fairfield and Vacaville had destroyed a home and two other structures, according to the Vacaville Fire Department. A firefighter suffered a minor injury battling the blaze, which grew to about 2.6 square miles (6.9 sq. kilometers) and was 70 percent contained by Saturday afternoon, officials said.

The largest fire ever recorded in California — the Mendocino Complex — is burning north of Sacramento and has destroyed 119 homes but none in recent days. The fire had reached 508 square miles (1,315 sq. kilometers) and was 67 percent contained by Saturday.

The two-week-old Carr Fire that killed eight people and burned more than 1,000 homes was 55 percent contained.

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