More head home as progress made against California fire

Christopher Weber
Associated Press

San Bernardino, Calif. — A preliminary assessment found 96 single-family homes have been destroyed in Southern California’s huge wildfire, a spokesman said Friday.

Also destroyed were 213 outbuildings, said Brad Pitassi, a spokesman for the multi-agency fire command.

The news came as firefighters were taking the offensive to expand significant gains in corralling the fire.

“We’ve got the ball, we’re on the move,” fire information officer Bob Poole said.

Meanwhile, thousands of residents chased from their mountain and desert homes were returning home and slowly beginning to take stock of their losses.

Firefighters initially struggled to get the towering flames under control but later made dramatic progress in corralling the fire that scorched nearly 58 square miles and was 26 percent contained. Plans were underway to demobilize some of the nearly 1,600 firefighters.

Fire spokesman Brad Pitassi said crews were in defensive posture until Thursday night when they reached a turning point, aided by a buildup of ground forces and a fast-paced air attack with retardant and water drops.

“That number could have been much higher,” he said of the destroyed homes and buildings, noting that at one point the fire had grown by 30,000 acres in 24 hours.

Katie and Johnathon Havens piled their 1-year-old son and teacup Chihuahua into their RV as flames neared.

The Havens thought they had lost everything when a map of the fire was released. They later discovered their house was intact after they were able to access a camera they had placed inside the home.

“It’s very comforting to know the house is still there,” Katie Havens said. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to go back and have neighbors who don’t have homes anymore. The community is never going to be the same.”

A prolonged drought has transformed swaths of California into tinderboxes, ready to ignite. Several other wildfires were burning in the state, including a blaze in rural Santa Barbara County that prompted the evacuation of a pair of campgrounds.

In the southern Sierra Nevada, another blaze feeding on dense timber in Sequoia National Forest forced the evacuation of several tiny hamlets.