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Residents begin to return to fire-ravaged Northern California town

Daniel Berlant of the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection said Wednesday that some residents have been able to return home to Lower Lake, a small town on the south end of Clear Lake, after being evacuated in the face of the Clayton fire that burned more than 4,000 acres.

The Clayton fire was more than 50 percent contained Wednesday evening, Berlant said, but destroyed more than 250 buildings including 175 homes and eight of the town’s downtown businesses, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.

Lower Lake, some two hours northeast of San Francisco, has around 1,400 residents.

Some 4,000 residents of nearby Clearlake, a small city just up the road, were allowed to return home on Tuesday after being evacuated as a precaution, Berlant said.

An attorney for Damin Anthony Pashlik, the 40-year-old former construction worker accused of starting the Clayton fire, reminded angry residents that his client, who lives in a trailer in Clearlake, was innocent until proven guilty.

Pashlik was arrested Monday and arraigned Wednesday on charges of starting the Clayton blaze, which is still burning, and 11 smaller area fires since 2015.

Pashlik did not enter a plea Wednesday, the newspaper said, and is being held at Lake County Jail in Lakeport in lieu of $5 million bail.

Trees in heavily wooded Lake County are particularly vulnerable to fire in this, the fifth year of drought in California.

Elsewhere in California, firefighters are finally making progress battling a much larger fire in the mountains east of Los Angeles that has forced tens of thousands of residents to evacuate.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Melody Lardner says the blaze that began in the Cajon Pass and grew to cover 40 square mailes was 4 percent contained Wednesday evening, the newspaper said.

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