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Sep 28, 2:39 PM EDT

Growing California wildfire threatens remote mountain homes

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AP Photo/Noah Berger

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MORGAN HILL, Calif. (AP) -- A growing and destructive wildfire was moving toward remote California homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Wednesday as it scorched its way through bone-dry brush and trees.

It was among three blazes burning in Northern California during a time of year when the drought-stricken state sees its largest and most damaging wildfires, state forestry officials said.

The fire in steep mountain terrain south of San Francisco grew overnight to more than 3 square miles and was partially contained. It gutted one home and threatened 300 buildings, though it was not clear how many were homes or smaller structures.

Authorities ordered residents of several canyons and other rugged areas to evacuate.

Cooler temperatures and calmer winds were expected to help more than 1,000 firefighters battling the flames that flourished over days of withering heat, said Capt. Nick Wallingford of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"The cooling trend is very good news, but there's still a big threat," he said Wednesday. "Today, we're really going on the offensive in fighting this fire."

The fire burned in an area dotted with large-scale marijuana growing operations. Anthony Lopez returned Tuesday to check on his home, which was still under an evacuation order, and was overjoyed to find dozens of his marijuana plants intact and his 1972 Buick Skylark uncharred.

Norman Noble, 75, left the mountain home where he's lived for a quarter-century as flames approached and fire trucks rolled in.

"I evacuated ... because I didn't want to get in anyone's way," he told the San Jose Mercury News (http://bayareane.ws/2cH4hpE ), adding that he had no idea when he might be able to go back.

The fire started Monday during a heat wave that brought low humidity and temperatures in the upper 90s to much of California. The heat began easing, but fire risk remained extreme.

North of San Francisco, another fire destroyed four houses in the small city of Petaluma on Tuesday. It ignited in grass near Highway 101, and the wind blew it into parched eucalyptus trees. Embers from the flaming trees landed on the roofs of 13 homes.

Other property also was damaged, including burned backyard decks, sheds and windows, fire Battalion Chief Jeff Holden said. Authorities evacuated about 20 homes, and the only injury was to a woman who received burn blisters on the bottom of her foot.

East of Francisco, a wildfire started Monday when a driver on Highway 49 pulled over to rest and the car ignited dry grass, authorities determined. Firefighters were battling the 1-square-mile fire near the town of Mocassin, about 120 miles east of San Francisco.

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