Hundreds more allowed back home in California wildfire

MARIPOSA, Calif. (AP) — Hundreds of Northern California residents were allowed to return to their homes, as crews aided by lower temperatures and higher humidity made progress Wednesday against a wildfire near a main route into Yosemite National Park, a fire official said.

A total of 1,000 evacuees have now gone back home since Tuesday night, including an additional 300 or so overnight, state fire spokeswoman Tina Rose said.

About 400 to 500 people remain evacuated, and it's not clear when they'll receive permission to return. But Rose said fire crews have almost completely stopped the blaze's forward progress. It has burned about 2 1/2 square miles and is 40 percent contained.

"We almost have this thing buttoned up," she said.

Crews plan to light backfires to take out any potential fuel for the blaze, which was started Sunday by a campfire that wasn't fully out before it was abandoned. About 2,200 firefighters were called in to battle the blaze.

One firefighter suffered a minor injury. No homes or buildings were damaged or destroyed.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter in Mariposa for evacuees.

State Route 140 into Yosemite National Park remains open. Tourists can see some smoke from the road itself, but it does not affect visitors in the park, said park spokesman Scott Gediman. The fire is burning about 35 miles west of the park's boundary, Gediman said.

"Visitors coming into the park are fine," he said. "We're not discouraging visits, just the opposite. If people have plans, there's absolutely no reason for them not to come."

Officials said the fire danger is extreme in California this year, due to an especially dry spring. Already this year, more than 80 square miles have burned across the state. At this time last year, about 30 square miles had burned. CalFire has responded to 2,600 fires so far in 2013, a 75 percent increase from 2012.