LOS ANGELES (AP) — Authorities lifted evacuation orders as firefighters made progress Sunday on a large blaze that sent thousands fleeing homes and farms northwest of Los Angeles.
Crews working in steep terrain were tamping down hotspots and keeping an eye on lingering gusts in mountain areas that could carry embers, said Ventura County Fire Capt. Steve Kaufmann.
“I’d say we’re cautiously optimistic,” Kaufmann said, citing calmer winds overall and rising humidity levels.
Firefighters have contained 70% of the blaze known as the Maria fire, which has burned nearly 15 square miles (39 sq. kilometers) of dry brush and timber. Three buildings were destroyed.
More than 11,000 people evacuated after the flames spread Oct. 31 during dry winds that fanned fires across the state this fall.
In his first recent comments on the California fires, President Donald Trump threatened to cut U.S. aid funding to the state.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has done a “terrible job of forest management,” Trump tweeted. When fires rage, the governor comes to the federal government for help. “No more,” the president tweeted.
Newsom replied with a tweet of his own: “You don’t believe in climate change. You are excused from this conversation.”
California has increased fire prevention investments and fuel management projects in recent years while federal funding has shrunk, the governor’s office said in a statement.
“We’re successfully waging war against thousands of fires started across the state in the last few weeks due to extreme weather created by climate change while Trump is conducting a full on assault against the antidotes,” Newsom said.
The state controls just 3% of forest land in California, while the federal government owns 57%, according to numbers provided by the Newsom’s office. About 40% of the state’s forest are privately owned. Neither of the two major fires currently burning are on forest land.
Last year Trump made a similar threat as wildfires devastated Malibu and Paradise, California — accusing the state of “gross mismanagement” of forests.
At the time Newsom defended California’s wildfire prevention efforts while criticizing the federal government for not doing enough to help protect the state.
In Northern California, more people returned to areas evacuated from a huge fire that burned for days in the Sonoma County wine country.
The 121-square-mile (313-square-kilometer) fire was 76% contained on Sunday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
The tally of destroyed homes reached 175 and there were 35 more damaged, authorities said. Many other structures also burned.
The causes of both fires were under investigation but there was a possibility that electrical lines might have been involved — as was the case at other recent fires.
Southern California Edison said Friday that it re-energized a 16,000-volt power line 13 minutes before the fire erupted in the same area of Ventura County.
Edison and other utilities around the state shut off power to hundreds of thousands of people last week out of concerns that high winds could cause power lines to spark and start fires.
Southern California Edison will cooperate with investigators, the utility said.