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2nd firefighter killed battling California wildfires

2nd firefighter killed battling California wildfires
Michael Hallenbeck, 21, died Saturday while battling the Sierra fire, authorities said. (Handout / U.S. Forest Service)

A U.S. Forest Service firefighter was killed Saturday night battling a wildfire in Northern California, becoming the second firefighter to die in just over a week.

Michael Hallenbeck, 21, from Shingle Springs, Calif., was killed fighting the Sierra fire near Lake Tahoe when a tree fell on him. Another firefighter was injured.

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"Our hearts go out to the family, friends and fellow crewmembers of this brave firefighter," U.S. Forest Service official Randy Moore said in a statement. "The loss of any member of our Forest Service family is a tragedy. The grief we are feeling at the sudden loss of two of our firefighters; Dave Ruhl last week on the Modoc National Forest and now Mike Hallenbeck on the Basin, reminds us of the sacrifices these men and women make every day."

On July 30, Ruhl, 38, was killed while scouting a blaze in Modoc County, near the Oregon border.

There are more than a dozen fires continuing to burn across Northern California.

The largest of them, the Rocky fire, has consumed nearly 70,000 acres and was 85% contained as of Sunday night, state fire officials said.

Hundreds of people who fled their homes as the erratic Rocky fire spread have since returned to their communities to find devastation in the blaze's wake.

The massive fire destroyed 43 homes and 53 outbuildings, and eight structures were damaged as it quickly spread across Colusa, Lake and Yolo counties.

On Thursday, evacuation orders were lifted for 800 homes and by Saturday afternoon, all remaining evacuation orders were canceled. As residents returned, they found scorched hillsides, damaged roads and homes in ruins.

More than 3,500 firefighters have battled the blaze, which started July 29 and is burning north of Napa.

Fire officials are concerned about pockets of intense heat that remain within the containment area. Fire activity, they say, may increase as humidity drops and temperatures rise again.

Thunderstorms overnight did not affect the Rocky fire, according to the National Weather Service.

Nearly 1,000 lightning strikes were logged across California.

A red flag warning, however, remains in effect throughout Northern California, where gusty winds and dry fuels increase the fire threat.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA

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Matt Hamilton and Shelby Grad contributed to this report.

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