Crews make progress on large Southern California wildfire

An air tanker drops retardant as the Maria Fire approaches Santa Paula, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. According to Ventura County Fire Department, the blaze has scorched more than 8,000 acres and destroyed at least two structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Authorities lifted evacuation orders for a farm community Saturday as firefighters make progress on a large wildfire in Southern California that continues to threaten about 2,500 homes and buildings.

Ventura County officials allowed an unknown number of residents in Somis to return home Saturday morning after firefighters contained 30% of the Maria Fire, which has burned nearly 15 square miles (38 square kilometers) and forced nearly 11,000 people to evacuate.

Fire activity subsided overnight. The county officials said in a 6 p.m. update that the humidity level is expected to stay low and winds will become more favorable to firefighting in Southern California

Police in Santa Monica urged beachgoers to seek shelter indoors after lightning was reported over the city.

Crews battled to keep the flames away from orchards and farms in the rural area. Three buildings were destroyed.

The fire erupted on a hilltop northwest of Los Angeles on Thursday during what had been expected to be the tail end of gusty Santa Ana winds.

The cause was under investigation but there was a troubling possibility that an electrical line might have been involved — as such lines have been at other recent fires.

Southern California Edison said Friday that it re-energized a 16,000-volt power line 13 minutes before the fire erupted in the same area.

Edison and other utilities up and down the state shut off power to hundreds of thousands of people this week out of concerns that high winds could cause power lines to spark and start fires.

SCE will cooperate with investigators, the utility said.

In Northern California, more people were allowed to return to areas evacuated due to the huge Kincade Fire burning for days in the Sonoma County wine country.

The 121-square-mile (313-square-kilometer) fire was 72% contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

The tally of destroyed homes reached 175 and there were 35 more damaged, Cal Fire said. Many other structures also burned.

Historic, dry winds prompted the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., to initiate four rounds of widespread pre-emptive shut-offs in Northern California this month to prevent wildfires.

But the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District pegged the utility’s equipment as the cause of three smaller fires that cropped up Oct. 27 in the San Francisco Bay Area suburbs of Martinez and Lafayette.

And while the cause of the Kincade Fire hasn’t been determined, PG&E reported a problem with a transmission tower near the spot where the fire started.

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This story has been corrected to report that the Maria Fire is northwest of Los Angeles, not northeast.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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