Northern California Wildfire Slows, Allowing Most Residents to Return Home


A destructive wildfire that engulfed buildings and forced 29,000 people to evacuate the area near Oroville in Butte County, Calif., slowed enough on Thursday that most residents were allowed to return to their homes, officials said.

Fire crews battled flames overnight, and on Thursday morning, the spread of the blaze, named the Thompson fire, remained relatively stable, at around 3,700 acres burned. The fierce winds that initially drove the fire weakened through the night.

On Thursday afternoon, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office lifted evacuation orders and warnings for more than 20 zones, and downgraded evacuation orders to warnings for roughly another 20, allowing more than 26,000 residents who had been displaced by the fire to return. About 2,780 people remain under mandatory evacuation orders.

So far, four firefighters have been injured and four structures destroyed as a result of the blaze, according to Cal Fire’s incident report. The fire has also consumed vehicles, based on news coverage.

“Overall, things are looking pretty good,” said Kevin Colburn, a spokesman for Cal Fire. “The fire is not doing what it was doing on the first day. It’s not burning with a rapid rate of spread. It’s pretty much staying in the footprint that it’s in.”

Mr. Colburn added that while officials were feeling “more confident” about the slowing spread of the fire and the ability of firefighters to contain it, there was still a lot of work to do, and the situation could change. As of Thursday morning, the fire was 7 percent contained.

Some people who returned to the area on Thursday remained uneasy. Angel Williams, the assistant manager at Foothill Boarding and Grooming in Oroville, spent the morning moving a group of dogs back into kennels after they were evacuated on Tuesday.

The nearby hills were charred black, and a hot, smoky breeze moved through the complex. The facility was not damaged, but Ms. Williams was trying to reduce the number of animals in her care, sending dogs to the owners’ emergency contacts in case the situation changed.

“We’re still on standby,” Ms. Williams said, noting that the fire was still burning only a few miles away. “I’ve had a massive headache all day because I’m so worried.”

Much of California is experiencing a brutal heat wave that was not expected to ease until next week. Temperatures in Oroville on Thursday were expected to reach 110 degrees, with even hotter ones expected in the coming days. The rising heat, coupled with low humidity, could contribute to increased fire activity, officials said. On Wednesday, two smaller fires ignited within a few miles of the blaze near Oroville, but they were quickly contained.

Butte County has been the scene of a number of destructive fires in recent years, including the Camp fire, in 2018, one of the deadliest wildfires in American history. It killed 85 people and almost completely destroyed the town of Paradise, about 20 miles north of Oroville.

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