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Fire crews make 'significant' progress battling Calif. wildfire

A long exposure picture shows an Orange County Fire Authority Crew keeping watch in a residential area of Idyllwild, USA, 19 July 2013, as the Mountain Fire burns three km away. Some 6,000 residents of the mountain town of Idyllwild and the surrounding communities some 180 km east of Los Angeles were evacuated. Stuart Palley / EPA

Aided by cooler temperatures and rainfall, firefighters in Southern California over the weekend were making tremendous progress battling the so-called Mountain Fire, allowing thousands of residents to return home.

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Storms dropped an inch and a half of rain on the blaze Sunday, helping crews contain nearly half of the week-long blaze, officials announced. High humidity and lower temperatures also have assisted crews in more than doubling the containment area from Friday.

Officials on Sunday lifted the mandatory evacuations in place for Idyllwild and Fern Valley, allowing nearly 6,000 people to return to their homes. The Riverside County Sheriff's Department said only residents and business people would be permitted into the area.

“The last 24 hours have been great for the crews on the ground, we’ve been able to make significant improvement along the fire’s edge,” Chris Gaulding, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, told NBC Los Angeles.

Fire officials have also been closely monitoring the threat of thunderstorms in the area that could bring with them dangerous flash floods, lightening and wind.

Seven homes have been destroyed by the wildfire burning in the San Jacinto Mountains, along with more than a dozen other structures. The 42-square mile fire has burned 27, 245 acres.

“I almost cried, because I saw the house here but everything else was just black,” Pablo Pimentel, whose home was spared by the fire, told NBC Los Angeles.

Late Friday, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency while filling in for vacationing Gov. Jerry Brown. Nearly 3,400 firefighters have been called in to battle the blaze, along with 30 aircrafts.

And on Sunday, more firefighters from around the state were on the way to help.

It has so far cost $12 million to battle the blaze, NBC Los Angeles reported.

Authorities have said the fire was human-caused, but they wouldn't say whether it was accidental or intentional, according to the Associated Press.

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