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Northern California Wildfires: Air Crews Make Dent In Massive Blaze (PHOTOS)

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MINERAL, Calif. — Residents of a tiny mountain town breathed easier Friday after air tankers and helicopters blunted the run of a massive wildfire in Northern California just outside Lassen Volcanic National Park.

"After hearing the news, I think I feel a whole lot better today," said Bob Einck, a contractor. He added that he didn't expect to have to continue to remove belongings from his vacation home in Mineral to protect them from fire danger.

Fire crews working by air Thursday repeatedly doused the spearhead of the Ponderosa Fire with water and flame retardant as it crept up the deep Battle Creek Canyon threatening the national park and the town of about 190 homes.

CalFire spokesman Don Camp said firefighters made significant progress against the blaze, stopping its stubborn run only miles from Mineral.

"We didn't sustain any significant growth for the first time in four days," Camp said.

Residents, meanwhile, gathered at the Lassen Mountain Lodge, which serves as a gateway to the park and has become a makeshift fire command center, and studied the latest fire map, which shows the blaze more than two-thirds contained at nearly 30,000 acres, or 44 square miles.

"Today is going to be a critical day," Camp said, noting that winds were expected to slow Friday. Full containment is expected early next week.

Sixty-four homes and 20 other buildings have been destroyed, mostly in the Manton area, since lightning ignited the blaze Saturday, Camp said. It was still threatening 900 other homes scattered through the rugged countryside as it burned a new front to the south.

About 2,500 firefighters were battling the blaze scorching piney hills about 30 miles southeast of Redding.

Efforts to protect Mineral have had a noticeable effect, according to Wade Glenn, who manages the lodge. He said that when the fire started smoke was heavy in the air, causing tension among area residents. Glenn said Friday that the skies were a hazy blue and people were feeling much better.

Gale Gilbert, a retired California Highway Patrol traffic officer, said the fire in the canyon looked like a mass of little campfires after the heavy dousing from the air.

"You get concerned, but there's not much you can do but wait, and make sure your insurance is paid up," he said. "I feel pretty comfortable coming down and looking at the maps and hearing people talk."

The Ponderosa Fire is one of two fires at the popular park not fully contained. The Reading Fire _located on the opposite side near Redding – was contained earlier this week and has led to the reopening of more areas of the park.

Park Superintendent Darlene Koontz said Friday that while there still may be smoke in some areas, park officials will reopen more areas as soon as they are deemed safe.

Otherwise, most of the park's popular trails are open.

Elsewhere in the state, firefighters battling a large blaze in Plumas National Forest braced for gusty winds this weekend. The fire, about 120 miles north of Sacramento, has consumed 99 square miles since it started at the end of July. It threatens about 900 homes and was a little more than half contained on Friday.

The California fires were among several stubborn blazes scorching the West.

In Washington state, crews have nearly contained a nearly two-week-old wildfire that has destroyed 61 homes and 35 outbuildings and damaged at least seven other properties, officials said.

The fire located about 75 miles east of Seattle has caused an estimated $8.3 million in property damage. Officials say it should be fully contained by Wednesday.

In Idaho, officials said three major wildfires that continue to threaten homes and cabins in the state's mountainous backcountry are likely to burn well into fall and won't likely be out until the snow flies.

On the 173-square-mile Trinity Ridge Fire some 50 miles northeast of Boise, crews on Friday feared blustery weather from a dry cold front moving through that could make it even tougher to control flames that have forced the evacuation of several remote communities including Featherville. Accompanying lightning was also a worry, officials said.

___

Collins reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Phuong Le in Seattle and John Miller in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

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