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TULELAKE, Calif. — Firefighters made progress on a lightning-sparked wildfire straddling Siskiyou and Modoc counties over Tuesday, raising containment amid "much calmer" fire behavior.
Evacuations ordered for parts of the Tulelake area and the community of Tionesta have been lifted by authorities as firefighters dig in along the fire's north and southeastern sides.
The Caldwell Fire — now the largest wildfire in the region — started near Caldwell Butte, roughly in the southeastern area of the Lava Beds National Monument. The latest update on Tuesday estimated the fire to be 75,567 acres with 40 percent containment.
Growth in all directions over the weekend brought the fire close to homes in multiple communities from Tulelake to Tionesta, resulting in those evacuation orders.
"On the southeast corner, dozers and firefighters succeeded in creating solid control line, and this allowed the residents of Tionesta to return to their homes," fire officials said on Wednesday. "On the east side, fire held well along the 120 road, and fire crews built control line all around the fire area that had crossed over the railroad tracks. On the north, fire flanked into the marsh and the tule is receptive to burning, however, fire is holding well at the 120 road."
On Friday, fire officials estimated the Caldwell Fire at less than 7,900 acres, underlining the fire's tremendous growth over the weekend.
A second lightning-caused fire in the area, considered distinct from the Caldwell Fire, continues to grow to the northwest near Gillem Ridge. It was estimated at 3,669 acres on Wednesday morning, "burning in difficult terrain that is not fully accessible to firefighters."
"Aircraft were not able to drop water over the Gillem Fire yesterday because of smoke impacts," fire officials said. "Crews and equipment will continue similar work as yesterday on the Caldwell Fire, securing the fire’s edge and ensuring that control lines are solid and effective. Firefighters on the south side will extend the direct line they began yesterday."
Anticipated Red Flag conditions over Wednesday were expected to increase fire behavior, including flare-ups at any other lightning-caused starts in the area.
Both the Lava Beds park and the Medicine Lake Recreation Area remain under mandatory evacuations due to the Caldwell Fire's spread. The 10 Road, or Lava Beds Road, has been closed since Thursday.
The Forest Service said that the Medicine Lake closure was "out of an abundance of caution" because the fire threatens to cross Forest Service Road 97, which could cut campers off from an exit to the east.
The U.S. Forest Service called in a Type 2 Incident Management last week for multiple lightning-caused fires in the area, dubbed the July Complex. Most of the other fires in the complex are within Modoc County.
There were at least 15 active fires within the Modoc National Forest, according to fire officials, and most were kept to a small and manageable size. Several of those fires grew beyond initial containment efforts, but have since been fully lined.
A smoke plume from the Caldwell Fire is visible even from long distances.