PLYMOUTH, Calif. (AP) — A private drone trying to record footage of a Northern California wildfire nearly hindered efforts to attack the flames from the air, but firefighters made enough progress to allow some of the 1,200 people under evacuation orders to return home Monday.
An unmanned aircraft that aimed to get video of the blaze burning near vineyards in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento was sighted Sunday, two days after the fire broke out, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said.
Authorities told the man controlling the drone to stop it from flying because of the potential danger to firefighting planes. The man, whom Tolmachoff did not identify, was not cited.
“This is the first one that I’m aware of,” she said. “These unmanned aircraft are becoming very popular with people, and there’s a possibility we will see more of them.”
Crews held the fire to a little under 6 square miles overnight, increasing containment to 65 percent, state fire Battalion Chief Scott McLean said. Some of the evacuations were lifted Monday morning, but McLean did not immediately know how many people were allowed to return to their homes.
“We’re still very cautious,” he said. “We’re not going to get complacent, but it’s looking very good.”
The Sierra foothills fire is one of two in California that has forced people from their homes, underscoring the state’s heightened fire danger this year after three years of drought created tinder-dry conditions.
The other fire about 100 miles away had burned through a little more than 4 square miles of brush and trees in Yosemite National Park, the neighboring Stanislaus National Forest and private land as of Monday morning and was sending smoke into Yosemite’s famed valley.
It grew by about 500 acres overnight and was 5 percent contained, with a relentless air attack limiting its spread, park spokesman Scott Gediman said.
The park itself — home to such sites as Half Dome mountain, Yosemite Meadows, a grove of Giant Sequoia trees and other wonders — remained open, and none of its treasures was threatened. But park officials warned hikers with respiratory problems to be careful because of the smoky air.
“It certainly grew, but it’s still within approximately the same footprint and is not spreading rapidly,” Gediman said.
An estimated 100 homes in Foresta and the small community of Old El Portal remained under evacuation. One home has been destroyed and two shelters have opened for people and animals.
Both fires took off quickly after they began, with triple digit temperatures and steep terrain hampering the firefight.
The Sierra foothills fire has destroyed 13 homes and 38 other structures near wine-growing regions in Amador and El Dorado counties, as it burns in rugged grassland and timber.
It started Friday when a vehicle drove over vegetation. In addition to the homes and cabins, it has destroyed a collection of 13 antique cars that a man was restoring in the town of Plymouth, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Neighbors have stepped in to help those forced from their homes and ranches.
The Amador County fairgrounds made room for displaced animals, and as of noon Sunday had taken in 12 horses, seven rabbits, 15 chickens, two dogs, three cats and seven goats, said Karen Spencer, the marketing director for the Amador County Fair.
“We’re right in the middle of our fair, but our livestock people are just moving over and making room,” she told the Bee.
Wildfires also burned in other Western states, including Washington, Oregon and Colorado.
The nation’s largest wildfire — the 618-square-mile Buzzard Complex in eastern Oregon — was almost fully contained Monday.
In north-central Washington, the 390-square-mile Carlton Complex fire, the biggest in the state’s history, burned as temperatures rose Monday, but crews have kept hot spots from spreading beyond containment lines.
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