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Crews make progressin California wildfires

A wildfire that has burned more than 49,500 acres in Northern California's Butte County was headed toward greater containment Saturday as firefighters lifted immediate evacuation orders on 3,000 homes in the western part of the county and cooler weather helped ease the fire threat.

Fire officials still listed the Butte blaze as 55 percent contained Saturday but said higher humidity, lower temperatures and weaker winds had slowed the spread of the flames.

A body was found Friday in a blackened home that burned last week in the tiny town of Concow. Twenty-five injuries were reported, said Capt. Julie Hutchinson of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“Weather conditions have been much more favorable,” Hutchinson said. “But we still have a few more days to go before we have a comfort level that we have the whole fire under control.”

As wildfires raged throughout Northern California on Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called up 2,000 National Guard troops for duty.

The infusion of California National Guard troops is meant to bolster the exhausted personnel who have been battling hundreds of blazes for more than three weeks. They will join 400 troops who have been deployed.

As many as 200 firefighters from Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Greece are expected this summer. Four huge air tankers have just arrived from Canada, joining a fleet of 31 planes and 108 helicopters.

In a news conference, Glen Cannon, an assistant administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the 1,700 lightning-sparked fires across the state were “unprecedented in size and number.”

About 300 are still uncontained, with some burning in areas so remote that they are not being fought.

“They have essentially exhausted all the internal resources within California,” Cannon said.

In Big Sur, firefighters were on the cusp of declaring victory along the coast, with plans to fully reopen Highway 1 to all traffic by today.

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