RESIDENTS forced to evacuate by forest fire allowed to start returning Sunday

Sunday, September 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

YANKEE HILL, Calif. (AP) _ Some of the people forced to evacuate by a fast-moving forest fire in the Sierra Nevada were allowed to return Sunday, hoping the blaze didn't threaten their homes again.

The 7,700-acre fire was only about 50 percent contained Sunday and full containment wasn't expected before Wednesday or Thursday.

``You can't relax out in this area because the fire can turn around and do anything,'' said CDF spokesman Loyde Johnson. ``It's a very dangerous situation out there.''

Wind in the area blew at 5 to 12 mph on Sunday, with gusts up to 20 mph, and temperatures were expected to hit the 90s.

The area of 400 houses was evacuated Friday. A handful of residents were allowed back in Saturday to check on their property, but they weren't allowed to stay as the fire behaved erratically and utility crews were still repairing telephone and power lines.

One of those allowed back in Saturday was Brian Mackey. His hopes were raised when his dog, Nelson, bounded down the road to greet him, but then he reached his cabin site and found nothing but charred, blackened debris.

``Man, oh man,'' he said, rubbing his eyes. ``Unbelievable.''

His was one of 26 homes destroyed by the fire near Lake Oroville, about 85 miles north of Sacramento.

``I've been through tornadoes and earthquakes, but never a fire,'' said Mackey, who had no insurance. ``I've got no other place to go. I've got nothing else to do. I guess I'll just bulldoze it under, pitch a tent and start over.''

Across the West, 10 major fires active on Sunday had blackened nearly 204,000 acres in California, Idaho, Montana, and Washington, the National Interagency Fire Center said.

Elsewhere in California's Sierra Nevada, a 15,000-acre blaze west of Lake Tahoe was 80 percent contained Sunday.

A fire 25 miles northwest of Yosemite National Park had blackened about 3,950 acres and was 50 percent contained Sunday. It was moving away from residential areas, officials said.