MAJOR California wildfire near containment, more than 400 evacuated return home

Friday, August 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GREELEY HILLS, Calif. _ Firefighters nearly contained a blaze near Yosemite National Park that forced more than 400 people from their homes, an indication of the headway they have made in recent days against Western wildfires.

Cooler weather and lighter wind helped firefighters control the 12,000-acre fire, believed to have been intentionally set over the weekend.

The fire injured 11 people, destroyed seven homes and at one point threatened 3,000 structures. It was 95 percent contained Thursday.

``It has been a pretty tough time, pretty emotional. It does get to you because you know the fire is only a couple of streets away,'' Kathleen Love said, standing in front of her house. ``Really, the work begins now _ we've got to move back in.''

With a return to hot weather expected this weekend, firefighters were hoping to make a line around the fire and fully contain it by Saturday. More than 2,000 firefighters were still battling the blaze.

Across the region, 28 major fires were burning Thursday, down from 32 the day before, said Davida Canahan of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

There were 295,683 acres actively burning on Thursday. The day before, the major fires had blackened 331,000 acres _ roughly half the size of Rhode Island, Canahan said.

In all, 26,700 firefighters and support personnel were working on Western fires Thursday.

Northern California remained a focus of firefighting in the West as rain helped firefighters extinguish blazes in Oregon and Washington.

Wet weather allowed firefighters to make direct attacks on seven major fires burning on more than 150,000 acres in eastern Washington.

Firefighters in Montana were watching wind speeds, and officials warned residents in the mountains north of Yellowstone National Park to prepare to evacuate if a 10,000-acre blaze near the tiny town of Emigrant continued to spread.

The wind doubled the size of a wildfire west of Glacier National Park to nearly 2,500 acres.