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Northern California wildfires rage on as temperatures rise

FRESNO, Calif. — High temperatures are expected Tuesday as crews struggle to make headway against a wildfire threatening about 450 homes and other buildings in the rugged foothills of Central California, fire officials said.

The fire burning near the tiny wooded communities of Bass Lake and Cascadel Woods north of Fresno, California, is just 5 percent contained as crews work in steep terrain on the ground and helicopters and air tankers help from above.

Residents remain under orders to be prepared to evacuate because of the fire, which has charred nearly 3 square miles.

Firefighters will closely watch the rising temperatures and adjust their tactics accordingly, said Cody Norris, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

"Today is going to be a critical day," he said of the fire. "It's not tied up by any means."

California has seen more wildfires so far this year compared to last, but the acreage burned is smaller thanks to favorable weather and more firefighters who can quickly be dispatched to corral flames, fire officials say.

Since Jan. 1, about 5,200 fires have burned on state and federal lands, according to the U.S. Forest Service. That's 10 percent more than last year, but the 74,000 acres is 6 percent smaller.

Spurts of unseasonably rainy weather combined with the availability of hundreds of additional firefighters paid for with emergency drought funding have made a big difference, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said Monday.

"We've had more firefighters early," he said. "That's allowed us to be more aggressive."

Cal Fire oversees state land and private property between forests and cities, while the Forest Service is responsible for 21 million acres in 18 national forests.

So far this year, state firefighters have responded to nearly 3,900 blazes — a 41 percent increase from the same period last year, according to Cal Fire. The fires have burned 28 percent less area than last year.

Cal Fire's map of fire activities showed nine blazes across the state.

A grass fire north of Sacramento Monday burned more than 430 acres in a few hours before it was contained Monday evening. That fire was deemed arson and an arrest was made.

A fire about an hour east of the Napa Valley wine country has burned more than 10 square miles. It was more than three-quarters contained Tuesday.

Four firefighters were hurt Sunday while battling a blaze that threatened 1,800 buildings in the rugged Sierra Nevada foothills northeast of Sacramento. One had serious, non-life threatening injuries and remained hospitalized.

Scattered wet weather has been the biggest factor helping firefighters contain fires more quickly during the fourth year of the drought, Berlant said. However, those storms often have been followed by hot, dry spells such as the one expected this week.