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Progress Made Against Wildfire North of L.A., While Big Sur Blaze Grows

Firefighters have made a lot of progress in beating back a huge wildfire that has been raging outside Los Angeles since Friday. But farther north, another blaze continued to grow amid high temperatures, fire officials said.

The so-called Sand fire in the Angeles National Forest north of L.A. remains massive: over 38,000 acres and counting, officials said. But it is now 65 percent contained — up from 25 percent on Tuesday. More than 2,700 firefighters and other personnel are still working on it.

2016 Los Angeles Times
Aurora Harris Heller, 62, left, comforts the owner, who refused to give her name, of a house destroyed by the Sand Fire in Santa Clarita, California, on July 26. Irfan Khan / LA Times via Getty Images

Their efforts have been helped by diminished winds, which slowed the fire's growth, officials said.

Most of the people ordered out of their homes have been allowed to return, although some roads remain closed, authorities said.

At least one person has been reported dead and at least 18 homes have been destroyed in the fire.

Meanwhile, California firefighters on Thursday were continuing to battle another large fire near Big Sur, which grew Thursday. Around 2,000 structures are threatened by the blaze.

The so-called Soberanes Fire in Monterey County had burned a little more than 27,300 acres — or more than 42 square miles — by Thursday afternoon, up from over 23,600 acres Wednesday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as CalFire, said.

By Thursday night the fire was up to 29,877 acres and was 15 percent contained, CalFire said.

Image: A firefighter from Cal Fire's Fresno-Kings unit sprays water on a backfire while fighting the Soberanes Fire on Palo Colorado Road near Big Sur
A firefighter from Cal Fire's Fresno-Kings unit sprays water on a backfire while fighting the Soberanes Fire on Palo Colorado Road near Big Sur, Calif. July 27. NOAH BERGER / Reuters

Thirty-four homes and 10 other buildings have been destroyed since the fire broke out at around 8:45 a.m. July 22, fire officials said.

A contract bulldozer operator fighting the blaze died after the vehicle rolled over Tuesday night, a CalFire spokesman said. The operator was identified by the department Thursday as Robert Oliver Reagen III, 35, of Friant, California.

"Our deepest sympathies and thoughts are with Robert’s family, friends and firefighting community as they navigate through this difficult time," CalFire, said in a statement.

JULY 27: Bulldozer Operator Killed as California Wildfires Continue to Burn 1:39

"Extremely remote and rugged terrain” with limited access, as well as hot and dry weather were hampering firefighting efforts, CalFire said.

California’s acting governor, Tom Torlakson, has declared states of emergency for the areas affected by the Sand and Soberanes fires. California is in its fifth year of a historic drought, which has raised the risk of wildfires.