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Crews battling huge California wildfire bracing for hotter temperatures, erratic winds

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SAN FRANCISCO — Crews battling a huge Northern California wildfire threatening thousands of homes braced for hotter temperatures and erratic winds Monday after cooler, wet weather helped them make progress over the weekend.

The fire east of Sacramento had burned through 137 square miles as of Monday morning, an increase of about 9 square miles from the day before. The expected weather shift could increase fire activity, fire spokesman Ryan Lubben said.

More than 5,000 firefighters — from as far as Florida and Alaska — managed to increase containment of the fire from 10 to 17 percent Sunday, said Capt. Tom Piranio, a state fire spokesman. It was 18 percent contained Monday morning.

"The heavy drizzle helped the firefighters immensely," he said.

Earlier in the day, poor air quality forced a last-minute cancellation of two popular Ironman events in nearby Lake Tahoe, disappointing about 3,000 athletes who signed up for the competition, Ironman operations manager Keats McGonigal said.

PHOTO: A pair of firefighters sleep out in the open near dozens of tents used to house personnel coming off the fire lines from the King Fire, at the base camp in Placerville, Calif., Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Wayne Allen Huntsman pleaded not guilty to an arson charge Friday in El Dorado County Superior Court. He was being held on $10 million bail after authorities said he started the blaze. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
A pair of firefighters sleep out in the open near dozens of tents used to house personnel coming off the fire lines from the King Fire, at the base camp in Placerville, Calif., Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Wayne Allen Huntsman pleaded not guilty to an arson charge Friday in El Dorado County Superior Court. He was being held on $10 million bail after authorities said he started the blaze. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

"I had tears too, and then my husband came and comforted me," Sabine Bokslopper told KTVU, as she unpacked her gear bags Sunday evening in Oakland.

Bokslopper was one of eight members of the Tri-Valley Triathlon Club who trained for the 140 mile endurance race: swimming, cycling, and running. "I was hoping to finish in 16 hours," she added.

The wildfire about 60 miles east of Sacramento started Sept. 13 and was threatening 12,000 homes. Preliminary figures released Sunday show it has destroyed 10 homes and 22 outbuildings in the White Meadows area of Pollock Pines.

Piranio said assessment teams were headed back in the rugged, steep terrain to survey more damage.

"It has been very challenging to get access to those burn areas because there's a lot of inaccessible terrain," he said. "We had to make sure it was safe enough to enter."

About 100 evacuees were allowed to return home, but some 2,700 remain under evacuation orders, state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. The fire also continued to threaten a key University of California, Berkeley research station that is home to scores of experiments on trees, plants and other wildlife.

A man charged with starting the fire, Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, pleaded not guilty to arson Friday and remained in the El Dorado County jail on $10 million bail.

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Video:
PHOTO: Much of the work on a wildfire happens far from the flames. On the King fire in the California's Gold Country, hand crews wield chainsaws and bulldozers cut fire lines to prevent flames from spreading. (Sept. 19)
Much of the work on a wildfire happens far from the flames. On the King fire in the California's Gold Country, hand crews wield chainsaws and bulldozers cut fire lines to prevent flames from spreading. (Sept. 19) PHOTO: An out-of-control Northern California wildfire has nearly 2,800 people from their homes as it continues to grow, authorities said Thursday. Authorities said a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson for starting the fire on Saturday. (Sept. 18)
An out-of-control Northern California wildfire has nearly 2,800 people from their homes as it continues to grow, authorities said Thursday. Authorities said a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson for starting the fire on Saturday. (Sept. 18)
Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: A burned out bus is shown near one of several homes that burned in the recent King fire near Icehouse in El Dorado County on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Randall Benton)
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