LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. (AP) — Aided by slightly cooler temperatures, firefighters made steady progress Sunday in battling a wildfire that destroyed 16 structures as it raged through Southern California’s Cleveland National Forest.
The Holy Fire was 41 percent contained Sunday afternoon after burning across 35.5 square miles of dry timber and brush, said Lynne Tolmachoff of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“The weather out here in California seems to be cooling down today and over the next couple days, and that should hopefully help firefighters get even more containment,” Tolmachoff said. “They should make better progress over the next couple of days.”
They’ll need to, with temperatures, expected to again reach 100 degrees or more by the end of the week.
The Holy Fire — named for Holy Jim Canyon, where it began last Monday — is one of nearly 20 blazes burning across California as the state sees earlier, longer and more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into forests.
With firefighters beginning to get a better handle on the blaze, they began to lift evacuation orders over the weekend for areas previously in its path, said Tolmachoff, who did not have exact numbers. More than 20,000 people were reportedly told to evacuate at one point.
Aircraft have made flight after flight, dumping water and bright pink retardant on the blaze to protect Lake Elsinore and other foothill communities near the flames.
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.
Elsewhere, the largest fire ever recorded in California — the Mendocino Complex — burning north of Sacramento destroyed more than 100 homes. It was nearly 70 percent contained Saturday. Updated containment figures were not immediately available on Sunday. On Saturday it had covered 508 square miles.
The two-week-old Carr Fire that killed eight people and burned more than 1,000 homes was more than 50 percent contained on Saturday.