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UPDATE: Air Attack Makes Headway In Ponderosa Fire

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MINERAL (AP) — Residents of a tiny mountain town breathed easier Friday after air tankers and helicopters blunted the run of a massive wildfire in Northern California just outside Lassen Volcanic National Park.

“After hearing the news, I think I feel a whole lot better today,” said Bob Einck, a contractor. He added that he didn’t expect to have to continue to remove belongings from his vacation home in Mineral to protect them from fire danger.

Fire crews working by air Thursday repeatedly doused the spearhead of the Ponderosa Fire with water and flame retardant as it crept up the deep Battle Creek Canyon threatening the national park and the town of about 190 homes.

CalFire spokesman Don Camp said firefighters made significant progress against the blaze, stopping its stubborn run only miles from Mineral.

“We didn’t sustain any significant growth for the first time in four days,” Camp said.

Residents, meanwhile, gathered at the Lassen Mountain Lodge, which serves as a gateway to the park and has become a makeshift fire command center, and studied the latest fire map, which shows the blaze more than two-thirds contained at nearly 30,000 acres, or 44 square miles.

“Today is going to be a critical day,” Camp said, noting that winds were expected to slow Friday. Full containment is expected early next week. It was 68 percent contained Friday.

Sixty-four homes and 20 other buildings have been destroyed, mostly in the Manton area, since lightning ignited the blaze Saturday, Camp said. It was still threatening 900 other homes scattered through the rugged countryside as it burned a new front to the south.

About 2,500 firefighters were battling the blaze scorching piney hills about 30 miles southeast of Redding.

Efforts to protect Mineral have had a noticeable effect, according to Wade Glenn, who manages the lodge. He said that when the fire started smoke was heavy in the air, causing tension among area residents. Glenn said Friday that the skies were a hazy blue and people were feeling much better.

Gale Gilbert, a retired California Highway Patrol traffic officer, said the fire in the canyon looked like a mass of little campfires after the heavy dousing from the air.

“You get concerned, but there’s not much you can do but wait, and make sure your insurance is paid up,” he said. “I feel pretty comfortable coming down and looking at the maps and hearing people talk.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)

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