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Major Wildfire Put Out in California, Hundreds Return Home

More than 400 people in California returned to their homes on Thursday, as firefighters put out one of six large wildfires in the state. Evacuations remain in effect in other parts of West, where 26 major blazes are still burning.

Rob Kopack of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said fire conditions are improving in some parts of the West. Firefighters have suspended an evacuation order for Coulterville, California, where a wildfire that burned 4600 hectares is almost fully contained.

The Fire Center spokesman said there is also good news from fire personnel in the Pacific Northwest. "In Washington and Oregon, some people were able to return to their homes," he said. "The hot spots seem to be Montana and California, still. We've got some weather problems with [strong] winds and [high] temperatures and [low] humidity that are driving the fires."

The official said hot, dry winds are fanning a growing fire in the Gallatin National Forest, near Fridley, Montana. "And it was so active Thursday and so extreme that they weren't even able to put firefighters on it, it was so dangerous," he said. "They had to just fall back and look at structure protection."

More than 200 houses and thousands of outlying structures have been lost in this year's fire season.

Firefighters are getting some help from the weather in several Western locations, but the fire center official says the season is far from finished. Lightning strikes set new fires continually. "You know, yesterday [Thursday] we actually had a very good day because we had very little lightning in the West," said Mr. Kopack. "We had 101 new [fire] starts, which is very low, actually. Anything under 200 is good. And only three of them developed into large fires because we were able to get initial attack to those other ones, the other 98, very quickly."

Mr. Kopack says fire is part of the natural cycle in Western wilderness regions, but firefighters do their best to divert the fires from houses and other structures.

Twenty-three thousand firefighters and other support personnel are fighting the wildland blazes. They will soon be joined by 500 soldiers from Fort Lewis, Washington, who are now undergoing two days of firefighting training.