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Evacuations Lifted As Gains Made On Southern California Blaze

IDYLLWILD, Calif. (AP) -- Southern California authorities are allowing thousands of people to return to homes in communities near Palm Springs as firefighters begin to get the upper hand against a week-old wildfire that has burned across 42 square miles.

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The Riverside County Sheriff's Department lifted evacuation orders late Sunday morning for Idyllwild, Fern Valley and other communities that had been threatened by the fire between Palm Springs and Hemet.

More than 6,000 people have been out of their homes the past several days.

The fire, which began Monday, has destroyed seven homes and 16 other structures.

The blaze is about half contained.

Firefighters are now making quick headway, however, with the help of strong rain that arrived on Sunday morning.

An inch and a half of rain was measured Sunday morning at the aerial tramway near Palm Springs, with more rainfall expected throughout the day. The moisture helped slow the fire's progress.

"With diminished fire activity, firefighters made great progress with line construction, particularly along the east side towards Palm Springs," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Miller.

With the blaze almost half contained, authorities were able to lift evacuation orders for several communities.

The fire was still far from extinguished, however.

The thunderstorm helping douse the flames could also bring lightning, wind and flooding, said Miller, all hazardous conditions for fire crews.

The mountain wildfire began last Monday and has burned across about 42 square miles. It has destroyed 23 structures, including seven homes.

The fire was less than two miles from Idyllwild on its western flank. It was a similar distance from Palm Springs below on the desert floor, where an enormous plume of smoke could be seen.

Authorities have said the fire was human-caused, but wouldn't say whether it was accidental or intentional. There have been no reports of injuries.

More than 2,600 firefighters were battling the blaze Sunday, using bulldozers, helicopters and other equipment.

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