Evacuees from Thompson, California wildfires allowed to return home as containment rises to 29%

Thousands of people who were evacuated during a wildfire in Northern California were allowed to return home Thursday afternoon as emergency crews continued to battle the flames in scorching heat, officials said.

A firefighter runs while battling the Thompson Fire in Oroville, Calif., Tuesday, July 2, 2024. A prolonged heat wave in Northern California has prompted fire warnings and power outages. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)(AP)

Containment of the Thompson Fire near the city of Oroville in Butte County was also increased from 7% to 29%.

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The “vast majority” of the 17,000 people who were under evacuation orders or warnings were able to go home, said Kristi Olio, Butte County's public information officer. Earlier reports that 26,000 people were given evacuation orders or warnings were inaccurate, she said, adding that the fire spread so quickly that it was difficult to get accurate numbers.

The Thompson Fire broke out about 70 miles north of Sacramento before noon Tuesday, sending up a huge plume of smoke that could be seen from space. The fire had burned 5.9 square miles, up from 5.5 square miles early Thursday.

ALSO READ| Thompson wildfire forces 26,000 people in Northern California to evacuate as heatwave continues

But authorities warned of high temperatures that could reach 42 degrees Celsius, with even hotter weather expected for Friday and Saturday.

“The wind is slowly increasing,” said Chris Peterson, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). “When you add to that the heat and low humidity,” the risk of explosive fires increases.

Evacuation orders lifted, but heatwave still poses a threat

Four buildings were destroyed and more than 12,000 people were threatened. Cal Fire did not say whether the buildings were residential, but an Associated Press photographer saw three suburban homes next to each other in Oroville go up in flames.

Four firefighters reported injuries, all from heat. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The region is no stranger to disasters. The deadliest and most devastating wildfire in state history nearly wiped out the Butte County town of Paradise in 2018. And in 2017, both spillways of the Oroville Dam — the highest in the country — burst, forcing the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people.

“We're doing 'well,' that's probably the right word,” said Oroville Mayor David Pittman.

He said Oroville's 20,000 residents heeded evacuation warnings and agreed to provide shelter and home-cooked meals to evacuees.

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Millions of people across the United States are suffering from a heat wave. In California, too, the situation is such that there is “currently significantly more wildfire activity” than in previous years, the office of California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

According to Cal Fire, more than a dozen other fires are still raging across the state, most of them small. The largest of these, the Basin Fire in Fresno County, has been almost half contained, covering an area of ​​57 square kilometers.