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Californians can go home but told to keep watch on wildfire

Last Updated Feb 19, 2018 at 10:20 pm EDT

This Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018 photo released by the Inyo County Sheriff's Office shows smoke rising from wildfires near Bishop, Calif. A wind-driven wildfire in rural central California forced mandatory evacuations and threatened hundreds of buildings Monday, including a historic railroad station, after it tripled in size overnight, officials said. (Inyo County Sheriff's Office via AP)

BISHOP, Calif. – A wind-driven wildfire in rural central California threatened hundreds of buildings Monday, including a historic railroad station, but officials said they made some gains after the flames exploded in size.

The blaze scorched 3 1/2 square miles (9 square kilometres) of chaparral bush and shrub oak in the small town of Bishop on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada that is popular for hiking, fishing, climbing and hunting.

Officials ended most evacuations that were ordered near the town but warned that strong winds were expected in the area and urged residents to remain vigilant.

It comes as California has seen some record-high temperatures and little rain after emerging from a five-year drought, helping fuel some of the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in state history late last year. U.S. drought monitors this month declared parts of Southern California back in severe drought.

In the most recent fire, several communities and campgrounds in the Pleasant Valley Reservoir area had been told to leave, said Cathey Mattingly, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

It’s not clear how many people had to evacuate after the blaze started Sunday, Inyo County sheriff’s spokeswoman Carma Roper said. But hundreds of structures were threatened, including the Laws Railroad Museum, a railroad station built in the 1880s, Mattingly said.

“We had pretty heavy wind activity overnight and we are expecting more windy conditions today,” Mattingly said Monday. “That is hampering firefighting efforts.”

She said at least 400 firefighters are working to contain the flames north of Bishop, a former mining town of about 3,800 that still celebrates mules each year with country music concerts, mule chariot races, log skidding and parades.

The fire broke out near the Pleasant Valley Reservoir and quickly grew to 900 acres. It forced the closure of a highway that connects rural Inyo County to Nevada.