Some residents near Wash. wildfire return home

Associated Press
This photo combination shows a house on a hillside above Bettas Road near Cle Elum, Wash., surrounded by flames on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, top, and on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, bottom. A spokesman for the Washington state Department of Natural Resources said the house survived the fire because of the defensible space around the structure with the placement of the driveway and the lack of trees and brush up against the house, preventing flames from reaching it. Firefighters are still working to control the Bridge Taylor Fire and said that it's 25 percent contained. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
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This photo combination shows a house on a hillside above Bettas Road near Cle Elum, Wash., surrounded …

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — Some residents forced to flee a large central Washington fire were allowed to return to their homes Thursday, while firefighters in rural Idaho protected two threatened towns and thousands of crew members worked wildfires across California.

The Taylor Bridge Fire about 75 miles east of Seattle has burned across roughly 35 square miles of diverse terrain, ranging from dry grasses to sagebrush and thick timber.

The fire was 33 percent contained late Thursday and no homes have been lost in the past two days, fire spokesman Mark Grassel said. Fire commanders said one firefighter was recovering at home for a few days after suffering minor facial burns Wednesday.

The fire started Monday at a bridge construction site. Officials have said at least 70 homes have burned. More than 950 firefighters have been assigned to the fire.

Evacuation levels at the fire's southeast corner were lowered Thursday afternoon, allowing some residents to return home. Grassel didn't know how many residents were affected. The area covered by the new advisory was just a small part of the burned area.

Laurie Plut said she doesn't feel out of danger yet. The fire has been right at the timber line for two days, just beyond the wood cabin she and her husband have been building over the past 12 years in a collection of 40 lots, all but five of them vacation cabins.

"We're still worried. It's extremely frustrating, but the firefighters have been working hard," she said by telephone. "And we have to love them."

In Idaho, crews fighting 12 big fires hoped to take advantage of a brief break from extreme heat and strong winds to protect threatened homes and build lines around fire perimeters.

The advance of the Trinity Ridge Fire toward the small communities of Pine and Featherville stalled Wednesday, giving residents more time to protect their homes and cabins and prepare for a possible evacuation. On Thursday, structure protection engines from around southern Idaho arrived in Featherville to familiarize themselves with the town. Firefighters participated in a fire simulation exercise.

The blaze started two weeks ago in the Boise National Forest and has scorched more than 108 square miles.

In eastern Idaho, growth of the Mustang Complex Fire slowed after days of rapid growth as flames quickly burned stands of timber killed by bark beetle infestation. The fires there have now burned more than 114 square miles and are moving northeast to within three miles of the Montana border.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter issued a disaster declaration Wednesday because of fire damage. The order clears the way for the Idaho National Guard to get involved in firefighting activities.

Officials said both fires are likely to continue burning until the fall before rain, snow or cooler temperatures move in to shut things down.

In Northern California, crews made progress along the northern edge of the Chips Fire in the Plumas National Forest. The blaze has threatened more than 900 homes and prompted voluntary evacuations. It has burned 67 square miles and was about 20 percent contained.

It's among the largest of nearly a dozen major wildfires burning across California that more than 9,000 firefighters are battling.

Storm cells packing strong winds and lightning moved through areas of Southern California where crews are making progress against wildfires threatening more than 100 rural homes.

Thunderstorms dropped heavy rain and some hail Thursday at the command center near Aguanga but didn't affect crews' efforts, Riverside County fire spokeswoman Jody Hagemann said.

A blaze that's burned 4 square miles of land east of Temecula was 60 percent contained. That fire destroyed four structures and injured five people.

About 30 miles to the southeast in San Diego County, a cluster of lightning fires was about 60 percent contained after destroying more than 24 square miles of brush. Evacuations remained in effect for more than 100 homes in Ranchita and San Felipe.

In Nevada, higher humidity helped crews get a handle on a huge wildfire burning on both sides of the Nevada-Oregon state line. The lightning-sparked blaze has burned 722 square miles of sagebrush and was more than 85 percent contained.

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Associated Press writers Todd Dvorak in Boise, Idaho; Terry Collins in San Francisco; Nick Geranios in Spokane, Wash.; Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore.; Bob Moen in Cheyenne, Wyo.; and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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