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California wildfire evacuations lifted after firefighters contain 50 percent of blaze

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LAKE ISABELLA, California — All evacuation orders were lifted Monday evening after firefighters made significant progress containing 50 percent of a smoky mountain wildfire west of a lake near Bakersfield, officials said.

The blaze has destroyed three houses, damaged another and forced hundreds to flee their homes. At least two of the burned houses appeared to be abandoned, the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement.

One other home was damaged by the blaze, which charred more than 4 square miles of trees and brush in and around Sequoia National Forest and also threatened power lines and communications facilities.

Firefighters used air tankers and helicopters to battle the blaze in the southern Sierra Nevadas. The fire's been pushed by gusty winds amid drought conditions.

On Monday, firefighters succeeded in digging a fire line almost all the way around the blaze and were burning vegetation in the fire's path.

PHOTO: Firefighters take a sleep break Sunday, June 15, 2014 in Riverside Park in Kernville, Calif., after battling the Shirley Fire all night on the night shift. The wildfire has consumed more than 1800 acres and continues burning with several hundred personnel fighting the fire including hand crews, helicopters, and air tankers from multiple firefighting agencies. (AP photo/The Bakersfield Californian, Casey Christie)  MAGS OUT, TV OUT, NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT
Firefighters take a sleep break Sunday, June 15, 2014 in Riverside Park in Kernville, Calif., after battling the Shirley Fire all night on the night shift. The wildfire has consumed more than 1800 acres and continues burning with several hundred personnel fighting the fire including hand crews, helicopters, and air tankers from multiple firefighting agencies. (AP photo/The Bakersfield Californian, Casey Christie) MAGS OUT, TV OUT, NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT

"It's running out of fuel basically, and it is burning downhill, so the fuel load is lighter as it goes downhill to brush and grasses rather than conifers," said fire spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman. She said lighter winds were also expected in coming days.

Their progress was helped Monday by winds that were calmer than expected and about 500 more firefighters assigned to battle the blaze, bringing total personnel to more than 1,600.

The fire broke out Friday night in a remote area 40 miles northeast of Bakersfield and expanded Saturday as dry winds pushed the flames toward homes, prompting Kern County sheriff's deputies to knock on doors into the night urging residents in 1,000 homes to leave.

Firefighters battled the blaze in steep, rugged terrain at elevations of up to 4,000 feet in a popular outdoor recreation area. Aircraft were scooping water from Lake Isabella to use on the flames. Helicopters flew around the clock and crews were able to keep the fire from growing significantly.

Authorities planned to keep the augmented crews working so they don't lose any time during shift changes to make progress, Forest Service spokeswoman Jennifer Chapman said. "It's going to be even hotter and drier at the end of the week," she said.

The Forest Service said that camping, horseback riding, rafting and other activities in the Sequoia district were so far unaffected by the blaze.

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Video:
PHOTO: A wildfire burning near homes Monday in the southern Sierra Nevada grew only slightly overnight and crews expected to make significant progress before hotter, drier weather sets in later in the week. (June 16)
A wildfire burning near homes Monday in the southern Sierra Nevada grew only slightly overnight and crews expected to make significant progress before hotter, drier weather sets in later in the week. (June 16) PHOTO: A wildfire is burning mostly out of control in and around the Sequoia National Forest in Central California. Area residents are being urged to evacuate. (June 16)
A wildfire is burning mostly out of control in and around the Sequoia National Forest in Central California. Area residents are being urged to evacuate. (June 16)
Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: The Shirley Fire kicks up  smoke with the sun in the center  in Wofford Heights, Calif., Sunday, June 15, 2014.   The Forest Service reported Sunday morning that the amount of acreage charred by the fire burning about 30 miles northeast of Bakersfield more than doubled overnight to 2.8 square miles.   The Kern County Sheriff's Office has called for the evacuation of about 500 homes in the Wofford Heights area. (AP photo/The Bakersfield Californian, Casey Christie)   MANDATORY CREDIT; MAGS OUT; NO SALES; ONLINE OUT; TV OUT
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