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Some Utah Wildfire Victims Get To Go Home

Authorities battling a wildfire that has burned more than 47 square miles allowed residents of a small town to return Monday while calmer winds helped firefighters in northeast Utah.

The fire was 5 percent contained Monday but that could improve if the fire lines are successful, said Brenda Bowen, spokeswoman for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team.

"They made a lot of really good progress getting (fire) lines tied in," Bowen said. "It's just going to take time to see if those lines will hold."

Winds were measured at 5 mph. About 100 members of the Utah National Guard joined to help authorities keep roads closed.

The fire, which killed three men Friday, was burning on a mosaic of private and public lands and the Uintah and Ouray Indian reservations in northeast Utah. The flames had spread north of Neola, about 100 miles east of Salt Lake City, and in Ashley National Forest, which was partially closed to the public.

The fire is threatening several small rural communities near the forest. About 300 people were under a mandatory evacuation, but about two dozen were allowed to return Monday to Whiterocks.

At least two homes burned down, according to the Red Cross, which set up an overnight shelter at a recreation center in Neola.

Hot, gusting winds hampered firefighters Sunday. About 400 firefighters focused on hot spots on the north and east edges of the fire.

Some residents of Farm Creek were escorted to their homes by the Uintah County Sheriff's department Sunday evening to get clothes and medicine and then they were escorted out, Bowen said Monday.

Meanwhile in California, firefighters were tackling fires from Santa Barbara to San Diego early Monday, as Southern California headed into its first heat wave of the summer.

Temperatures were expected to reach into the triple digits this week in some areas, increasing the fire danger in an already parched region.

Authorities were gaining ground on a 482-acre fire in the Los Padres National Forest northwest of Santa Barbara, which started Saturday and was 60 percent contained early Monday, according to a U.S. Forest Service fire information line.

The blaze had closed some campgrounds, but no residents had been ordered to leave.

A pair of wildfires burned near the town of Julian, east of San Diego. The larger fire had consumed 110 acres and was 20 percent contained by Sunday night, authorities said. The other blaze to the west blackened about 60 acres. Both were expected to be contained Monday.

A wildfire that destroyed at least 254 homes south of Lake Tahoe was 100 percent contained Monday morning, fire officials said, as hundreds of firefighters headed home.

A U.S. Forest Service investigation identified the cause of the destructive blaze as an illegal campfire, authorities said. Officials said there was no evidence it was deliberately set to spark the devastating wildfire that has displaced about 3,500 people.

The fires came as Southern California ended its driest year on record.

In the year beginning July 1, 2006, only 3.21 inches of rain fell on downtown Los Angeles, the lowest since records began 130 years ago. Normal rainfall is about 15 inches per year.

In Montana, residents of 40 to 50 summer homes just outside Yellowstone National Park were allowed to return home Sunday night as firefighters had a 6-square mile blaze about 60 percent contained. It began on Wednesday.

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