SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Despite a daily battle with searing temperatures, gusty winds and struggling through rugged terrain, the nearly 8,000 firefighters battling a series of wildfires across California were beginning to make progress in containing the blazes, officials said Saturday.
The Ponderosa Fire, burning about 25 miles southeast of Redding, was 74 percent contained Saturday afternoon, said CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant.
Since it was sparked last Saturday by a lightning strike the blaze has consumed more than 43 square miles, destroyed 64 homes and 20 outbuildings, mostly near the tiny community of Manton, Berlant said.
"Friday we were really able to hold the fire and we did not see any growth," Berlant said. "We're using helicopters and our ground crews to get to hot spots."
Still, with winds gusts of up to 20 miles per hour in the forecast for Saturday and Sunday, fire officials remained concerned that blowing embers could push the blaze past containment lines, Berlant said.
More than 300 homes were still considered threatened, but crews expected to have the fire contained Monday, Berlant said.
A second major fire in the region, this one burning in Plumas National Forest since July 29, was 55 percent contained after scorching more than 100 square miles.
Fire crews worked throughout the night Friday and Saturday morning setting "backburns," a technique used to burn dry timber near the edge of the blaze so that the wildfire would not have any fuel to consume if strong winds pushed it beyond containment lines, said fire spokesman Larry Helmerick.
"It would be basically starved for fuel," Helmerick said. "By doing this, if it moves out of any of those canyons, we'll be able to knock it down," he said.
Crews expected to have the fire contained Aug. 31.
In an unanticipated twist, the Plumas fire may prove to be a benefit to the lone wolf that's been roaming Northern California since last December.
The gray wolf, the first wolf in California in nearly 90 years, was tracked using his GPS collar to within a mile of the fire, officials said.
"Over the last week he was pretty darn close to the perimeter of this fire, strangely so," Karen Kovacs, the wildlife program manager for the California Department of Fish and Game, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
"There was speculation that he might be going after animals that are moving away from the fire," Kovacs said.
Meanwhile, a third fire burning outside the Mendocino County community of Covelo was 32 percent contained after consuming nearly 38 square miles.
"Overall we're making very good progress," Berlant said. "We have only nine (fires) left, that's down from more than a dozen that had been burning earlier this week."
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