Crews Make Progress on Southern California Wildfire

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

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 20 percent of the Maria Fire, which has burned nearly 15 square miles and forced nearly 11,000 people to evacuate.

While fire activity subsided overnight, winds and skin-cracking low humidity were expected to enter their fourth day Saturday and make another difficult day for firefighters. Moreover, an unexpected area of clouds moved in from the south, threatening to bring lightning strikes and wind gusts of 20 to 30 mph over the region, the National Weather Service said.

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 Thursday on a hilltop northwest of Los Angeles 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 fire was 72 percent 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.