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Evacuation order lifted from Calif. town threatened by wildfire

Associated Press / August 17, 2009

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DAVENPORT, Calif. - Hundreds of residents returned home when an evacuation order was lifted in a Santa Cruz mountain town yesterday, even as hot and dry winds fanned nearly a dozen wildfires across the state.

Bonny Doon residents trickling home along newly reopened roads were relieved to be out of immediate danger, but still apprehensive because containment lines built by firefighters are holding back only half the blaze. That fire has burned through about 10 square miles of the rugged terrain since Wednesday.

A state of emergency was declared in the county. Other blazes forced evacuations and knocked out power in other parts of the state.

Margaret Kliegel was at the fire command center in Davenport yesterday dropping off bread and cookies for the fire crew when she learned she could return home. She left her house Thursday as the flames shot into the air 3 miles away.

“We’ve lived here for close to 40 years so you got all your mementos and family things, and you don’t know if you’ll have a home to go back to,’’ Kliegel said. The news wasn’t as good for Bob McAuliffe, a carpenter who lives in a two-story home on Last Chance Road with his wife, chickens, dogs, cats, and cockatiels. They all left under orders and remained under mandatory evacuation for a third day. “I’m just anxious to get home,’’ he said.

Fire crews were unable to fight the blaze by air yesterday because of the heavy smoke, but made good progress on the ground along the western and southern ends of the wildfire, said Paul Provence, a state fire department engineer.

Crews planned to clear the canyon of heavy brush today, he said.

“The danger is still real,’’ Provence said. “It still could pop up on us.’’

Weather conditions overnight - cooler temperatures and increasing humidity - are expected to help the firefighting effort, but drought in much of the state has created dangerous conditions.

The blaze was just one of 11 wildfires statewide.