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Firefighters make progress against California fire, but heat risks grow in the West

A Cal Fire OV-10 air tactical aircraft releases a puff of smoke while guiding a fire retardant drop during the Thompson Fire in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday.
Stephen Lam/San Francisco Chronicle
/
AP
A Cal Fire OV-10 air tactical aircraft releases a puff of smoke while guiding a fire retardant drop during the Thompson Fire in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday.

Updated July 05, 2024 at 20:37 PM ET

OROVILLE, Calif. — Firefighters made progress Friday against a California wildfire that triggered extensive evacuation orders, but damage assessments raised the number of destroyed structures to 25, and forecasters said heat and fire risk were expanding on the West Coast.

Containment of the Thompson Fire near the Butte County city of Oroville rose overnight from 29% to 46%, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire was measured at just under 6 square miles after only slight growth overnight.

Most evacuation orders covering about 17,000 people were lifted Thursday.

Firefighters "did a really good job yesterday" enforcing containment lines, and wind hasn't been a factor, said Cal Fire Capt. Alejandro Cholico, a fire spokesperson.

Flames from the French Fire burn on a hillside above Mariposa, Calif., on Friday.
Noah Berger / AP
/
AP
Flames from the French Fire burn on a hillside above Mariposa, Calif., on Friday.

A new blaze dubbed the French Fire erupted Thursday evening and triggered evacuations in the small Gold Rush town of Mariposa in the Sierra Nevada foothills along a highway leading to Yosemite National Park.

Bulldozers and crews built a line across the entire eastern side of Mariposa as flames spread over 1.3 square miles before fire activity moderated.

"Winds have calmed which has helped firefighters make progress overnight," a Cal Fire status report said.

In addition to structures destroyed by the Thompson Fire, six others were damaged. There was no immediate information on the types of structures, but several homes were seen ablaze after the fire broke out Tuesday morning about 70 miles north of Sacramento.

The number of reported firefighter injuries was lowered from four to two, Cholico said. The cause of the blaze remained under investigation.

The Oroville region is familiar with catastrophic events. The deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history nearly wiped out the town of Paradise in Butte County in 2018.

Forecasters, meanwhile, warned California's blistering heat wave will continue and spread into the Pacific Northwest and adjacent western states.

"The duration of this heat is also concerning as scorching above average temperatures are forecast to linger into next week," the National Weather Service wrote.

Among extremes, the forecast for Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park calls for daytime highs of 129 degrees on Sunday and then around 130 through Wednesday. The official world record for hottest temperature recorded on Earth was 134 degrees in Death Valley in July 1913, but some experts dispute that measurement and say the real record was 130 recorded there in July 2021.

Numerous wildfires have erupted since the late spring across California, largely feeding on abundant grasses that grew during back-to-back wet winters and have since dried.

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