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Raging Southern California wildfire forces massive evacuations

80,000 told to evacuate in CA

SAN BERNARDINO -- A fire official says more than 82,000 people have been told to evacuate from mountain communities threatened by a powerful wildfire in Southern California.

San Bernardino County fire spokesman Eric Sherwin says the evacuation orders were given to about 34,500 homes.

Sherwin says some structures have already burned, but it hasn’t yet been determined whether any of them were homes.

The 14-square-mile fire near Cajon Pass has seen massive growth in the eight hours since it broke out on Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, fire crews have gained even more ground against on a Northern California wildfire that has destroyed 175 homes, businesses and other structures and charred nearly 7 square miles.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the fire in Lower Lake, about a two-hour drive from San Francisco, was 35 percent contained Tuesday.

In another sign of progress, fire officials lifted many of the evacuation orders in the town, allowing about 4,000 residents to return home earlier in the day.

Authorities on Monday arrested 40-year-old Damin Anthony Pashilk of Clearlake, California, on 17 counts of arson. Pashilk is suspected of sparking the blaze that exploded over the weekend. Officials say he is also suspected in several other fires over the past year in Lake County.

While incarcerated on drug charges, Pashilk received firefighter training, CBS New’ Mireya Villarreal reported.

In California, selected non-violent inmates can sometimes be called on to help containment efforts. Pashilk was in the program for two months before being paroled.

Pashilk will go before a judge Wednesday. CBS News tried to reach out to him, but received no response.

The California governor has declared a state of emergency for the area, which means people living here will be getting some much-needed help to start rebuilding.

“It was crazy how fast it went through town,” a resident Wade Holley told CBS News of the fire.

When Holley pulled up to his family’s Mechanic Shop Sunday night, the fire had just ripped through downtown and was making its way towards nearby homes.

“We were extremely lucky,” he said.

The blaze consumed several cars and got right up a wall before firefighters swooped in.

In Lower Lake, 175 homes and businesses weren’t as lucky.