Aided by rainfall, firefighters were taking control of a forest fire that destroyed about 40 homes in the Eastern Sierra near Mammoth Mountain.
Crews had the blaze about 65% contained by Sunday, nearly two days after a blaze whipped by winds tore into the towns of Swall Meadows and Paradise, with about 250 inhabitants. The towns are about 25 miles southeast of the Mammoth Mountain ski resort, near U.S. Highway 395.
The main problem now is more than four dozen downed power lines and damaged trees, making conditions too hazardous to lift mandatory evacuation orders in the area.
“It’s still very dangerous. We can’t let them in,” said Capt. Liz Brown of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Once it ignited, it was fanned by sustained winds of 50 to 75 mph blasting from the winter storm heading from the Pacific Ocean, Brown said. Firefighters had problems fighting the fire as the wind changed direction multiple times.
Finally, the wind shifted one more time Friday at about sunset, and the fire leapt right into the town of Swall Meadows. The fire grew from 100 acres to 5,000 acres in just a three-hour period.
“And, literally, the fire burned up the Sierras up to the 8,000-foot level, and the snow line is what stopped it,” Brown said. “In the flat area, the rain finally came and that’s what stopped the forward movement of the fire.”
Of the 40 burned homes, 39 were in Swall Meadows, while one was in Paradise.
Complicating the firefighting effort was extremely dry brush and shrubs, a symptom of California's fourth straight year of drought.
As of Sunday morning, no homes were threatened by the fire, which has charred 7,000 acres. Three firefighters have been injured.
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