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Thousands flee wildfires burning in the US and Canada

A firefighter carries a hose as a house burns in Oroville, California on July 8, 2017. The first major wildfires after the end of California's five-year drought raged across the state on July 8, as it was gripped by a record-breaking heatwave. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON

SANTA MARIA, Calif. — Wildfires barreled across the baking landscape of the western U.S. and Canada, destroying a smattering of homes, forcing thousands to flee and temporarily trapping children and counselors at a California campground.

Here’s a look at the wildfires blackening the West.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Southern California crews hope slightly cooler temperatures and diminishing winds will help in the battle Sunday against major wildfires that have destroyed structures, closed a highway and forced evacuations.

One of two fires raging in Santa Barbara County grew to 12 square miles (31 square kilometers), traversing a mountain range and heading south toward coastal Goleta.

“The plan is to hit it with air tankers to keep it from moving to the south and to the east,” said county fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni. “There’s less heat and less wind, which makes things a little easier.”

There was minimal containment and flames shut down State Route 154. About 90 children and 50 counselors were stuck Saturday at the Circle V Ranch and had to take shelter until they could be safely evacuated. Buildings have burned but officials weren’t yet sure if they were homes.

Crews were also using an air attack against another blaze about 50 miles north that exploded in size to 37.5 square miles (97 square kilometers). About 200 rural homes east of Santa Maria were evacuated after the fire broke out Saturday and was fed by dry gusts.

Officials also ordered campers near Cachuma Lake to evacuate, Zaniboni said.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

In Northern California, a Butte County wildfire swept through grassy foothills and destroyed 10 structures, including homes, and led to several minor injuries.

Burned-out pickup trucks were left in ashes, surrounded by charred, leafless trees. The metal frame of a mobile home and a vintage stove were left standing in scorched debris at one site.

The blaze about 60 miles north of Sacramento grew rapidly to more than 7 square miles (18 square kilometers) and was nearly 20 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. At least 750 homes remained threatened and hundreds more were evacuated.

“We’re hopeful about holding the lines,” fire spokeswoman Mary Ann Aldrich said Sunday. “There’s been progress.”

The area burning was about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Oroville, where spillways in the nation’s tallest dam began crumbling from heavy rains this winter and led to temporary evacuation orders for 200,000 residents downstream. On Saturday, authorities issued an evacuation for about 250 homes threatened by the fire.

After five years of severe drought, California got a big break with record rainfall and snowpack in parts of the state this year that has delayed the start of fire season in some places, but has also led to explosive vegetation growth that could fuel future fires.

BRITISH COLUMBIA

Firefighters were contending with nearly 200 wildfires burning in British Columbia that had destroyed dozens of buildings, including several homes and two airport hangars. The three biggest fires, which ranged in size from 5 to 8 square miles (14 to 20 square kilometers), had forced thousands of people to flee.

The province has been sending as many firefighters as it can to contain the flames — more than 1,000 were battling the fires, backed by hundreds of support staff.

Cliff Chapman, the deputy manager at the Kamloops Fire Centre, suggested Saturday was a day he’d never forget.

“I’ve been in this business for 17 years, from crew all the way up to where I am now, and I haven’t experienced a day like we experienced yesterday,” he said.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WEST

Firefighters have been able to build containment lines around about half the wildfire that forced the evacuation of hundreds of people near Breckenridge, Colorado. The fire has not spread since it broke out Wednesday and was still less than a square mile (about one-third square kilometer) Sunday.

In Wyoming, fire managers say good weather has helped them make progress fighting a wildfire burning in beetle-killed trees. The fire has evacuated the communities of Keystone, Rambler, Lake Creek and Moores Gulch and closed nearby camping areas in the forest.

And in Montana, firefighters are working to contain a wildfire to limit its impact on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and a nearby mine site. Fire managers say no homes have been lost, but five outbuildings have been damaged.