Arson charges filed in Southern California fire, some allowed to return home

Evacuees from Lucerne, from left, Ken Bennett with Ember Reynolds, 8, and Lisa Reynolds watch the sunset as smoke from the Ranch Fire rises into the sky at Austin Park Beach in California's Clearlake with Mount Konocti in the background. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

The Latest on California wildfires (all times local):

12:30 p.m.

Authorities have lifted mandatory evacuation orders for most lakeside communities impacted by the largest blaze in California history.

Lake County Lt. Corey Paulich says the majority of residents along the shores of Clear Lake in Northern California were allowed to return home Wednesday.

About 19,000 people were displaced during the peak of the blaze that started on July 27 and continues to burn in Mendocino, Lake and Colusa Counties

Paulich says about 1,500 people, mainly in his county's Spring Valley area, remain under evacuation orders.

He says fire officials are confident with the containment lines they have managed to cut around half the Mendocino Complex fire burning about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of San Francisco.

The twin blazes have charred 470 square miles (1,217 square kilometers).


12:10 p.m.

Police have arrested a man in connection with a Southern California wildfire that has burned 12 cabins and led to some evacuations.

Officials at the Cleveland National Forest say 51-year-old Forrest Gordon Clark was booked Wednesday on suspicion of two counts of felony arson, and one count each of felony threat to terrorize and misdemeanor resisting arrest.

It's unclear whether he has an attorney.

Clark is being held on a $1 million bail and is set to appear in court Thursday.

He was arrested in connection with the so-called Holy Fire, which has burned more than 6 square miles (15 square kilometers) in the Santa Ana Mountains.

More details about Clark's arrest are set to be released at a 2 p.m. news conference.


9:15 a.m.

A smoky Southern California forest fire is raging in mostly unoccupied land but firefighting crews are concerned the flames could race down hillsides toward foothill communities.

The blaze churning through the Cleveland National Forest south of Los Angeles is just 5 percent contained Wednesday morning.

Flames that erupted Monday have blackened nearly 6-and-a-half square miles (17 square kilometers) of dry brush and timber. Several cabins have burned and two rural canyons and some campgrounds have been evacuated.

No homes are immediately threatened but some residents have voluntarily evacuated. Officials warn that thick smoke blanketing neighborhoods is creating unhealthy conditions.

About 385 firefighters are working in rugged terrain amid scorching temperatures with help from 10 helicopters and 7 fixed-wing aircraft.


7:15 a.m.

California fire officials say they expect to gain control of the biggest blaze in state history in September.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Wednesday the blaze burning near Clear Lake in Northern California has destroyed 116 homes since it started on July 27. It is threatening another 10,000.

The agency also says two firefighters were injured but provided no details.

Experts say California is seeing earlier, longer and more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into the forests.

The massive Mendocino Complex fire of twin blazes burning side-by-side expanded even more overnight to nearly 470 square miles (1,217 square kilometers).

More than 4,000 firefighters battling the blaze have contained 47 percent of it.


This version corrects that firefighters have contained 47 percent of the twin blazes, not one third.

12:00 a.m.

California could be facing the toughest wildfire season ever as some 18 gigantic blazes ravage the state — and the historically worst months are still to come.

Some 14,000 firefighters are battling fires that have destroyed more than 1,000 homes and claimed six lives thanks to wind-whipped flames that have caused an explosive spread through vegetation left tinder-dry by years of drought.

Mark Hartwig of the California Fire Chiefs Association says fires are burning more intensely and quickly than before.

California's largest recorded blaze — the side-by-side fires dubbed the Mendocino Complex — needed just 11 days to blacken an area nearly the size of Los Angeles.

A deadly fire that destroyed more than 1,000 homes in the Redding area of Northern California is less than 50 percent contained.

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