Image: Crews at Calif. fire
Rob Varela  /  www.venturacountystar.com
A Ventura County fire crew backs down a bit as flames from the Zaca fire approach a fire break north of Ojai, Calif., on Monday.
updated 8/21/2007 10:40:41 PM ET 2007-08-22T02:40:41

A California blaze burning since early July grew to be the second-largest state wildfire in modern history on Tuesday, officials said as firefighters partly blocked it by a firebreak.

Even as crews made gains in the Santa Barbara County backcountry, others battled a new blaze in canyon lands east of Los Angeles and another in mountains outside Palm Springs.

The Santa Barbara County wildfire has blackened 345 square miles in Los Padres National Forest since starting July 4. It was 77 percent contained Tuesday.

The state’s biggest wildfire was a 2003 fire near San Diego that burned more than 426 square miles, destroyed 4,847 structures and killed 15 people.

Also Tuesday, residents of a Montana subdivision were allowed to return home as authorities said an 800-acre wildfire that had destroyed two homes was under control.

“There’s just smoke in a few places but the fire is out,” said Jim Kraft, emergency services director for Yellowstone County.

Crews save at least 50 homes
Mop-up efforts were expected to continue for the next couple of days in the 300-home subdivision near Billings where two homes and a church cabin were destroyed by the fast-moving fire Sunday night and early Monday morning.

Several outbuildings and vehicles also were lost, but authorities said crews saved about 50 homes that otherwise would have burned.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation, said Jack Conner with the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Separately, most residents of 120 homes evacuated because of another fire northwest of Missoula were to begin returning Tuesday evening. Three mobile homes were destroyed.

Image: Wall of fire in California
Rob Varela  /  www.venturacountystar.com
Firefighters watch as a wall of flames grows near a fire break north of Ojai, Calif., on Monday.
A quarter-inch of rain that fell overnight Monday allowed firefighters to rein in the 18-square-mile fire, fire officials.

Near the town of Seeley Lake, a fire was estimated at 54 square miles and was 28 percent contained. One home was destroyed and several others damaged.

Southeast of Missoula, authorities lifted evacuation orders Tuesday for more than 200 cabins near an 84-square-mile group of fires burning in three national forests. The complex has burned 54,100 acres and was 10 percent contained.

Crews have difficulty with Mich. blaze
In Michigan, an aerial tanker joined ground crews struggling in stiff breezes to keep an Upper Peninsula wildfire from jumping containment lines.

The tanker dropped water from above as firefighters mopped up the fiery patches and patrolled the perimeter of the nearly 29-square-mile blaze.

The fire, believed to have been ignited by an Aug. 2 lightning strike, covered about 18,256 acres was considered 67 percent contained.

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