The Latest: 268 structures charred in Northern California

LOS ANGELES (AP) " The Latest on California wildfires (all times local):

8 p.m.

Authorities say an arson fire that decimated the northern California town of Lower Lake has destroyed 268 structures, including 175 single-family homes and eight businesses.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the blaze was 50 percent contained Wednesday evening.

It has charred six square miles since it started Aug. 13.

Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant says residents were able to return home in portions of Lower Lake, a town of 1,300 people about two hours north of San Francisco.

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6:50 p.m.

Firefighters have made their first gains at surrounding a monstrous wildfire that has burned homes and forced thousands to evacuate the mountains and deserts east of Los Angeles.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Melody Lardner says the blaze that began in the Cajon Pass was 4 percent contained Wednesday evening.

Better mapping shows the blaze has blackened about 25,600 acres of brush and trees " about 40 square miles, down from the original estimate of 47.

However, homes are threatened from the ski resort of Wrightwood to the Mojave Desert town of Phelan, and officials have said at least a dozen buildings, including some homes, have burned.

More than 34,000 homes and some 82,000 people remain under evacuation orders. However, fire officials estimate that up to half have refused to leave.

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5:45 p.m.

More evacuations are being lifted as firefighters gain ground on a wildfire that decimated a town north of San Francisco.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the fire was 40 percent contained Wednesday.

Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant says residents were able to return home in portions of Lower Lake, a town of 1,300 people where the fire destroyed 175 homes and other structures.

A team is working on a full assessment of the destruction.

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2:55 p.m.

A man accused of starting a wildfire that destroyed 175 homes and other structures north of San Francisco has been charged with 14 counts of arson in connection with 12 separate fires dating back to July 2015 and one count of attempted arson.

Defendant Damin Pashilk made his first court appearance Wednesday and did not enter a plea.

The 40-year-old former construction worker turned his head away from television cameras in the courtroom during his arraignment in Lake County.

The most serious fire involved in the charges began Saturday and ripped through the working-class town of Lower Lake.

Most of the other fires were quickly extinguished or didn't spread. One burned a couple of acres and an uninhabited mobile home.

Pashilk's attorney, David Markham, said after the hearing that he had been told Pashilk passed out before his court appearance. The lawyer urged people to remember his client is presumed innocent.

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This item has been corrected to say Pashilk has been charged in connection with 12 fires and one attempted fire, not 13 fires.

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1:05 p.m.

A prosecutor says most of the 12 fires a former construction worker is accused of starting in Northern California were either quickly extinguished or didn't spread.

Lake County Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff said Wednesday that 40-year-old Damin Pashilk " the suspect in a blaze that destroyed 175 homes and other structures over the weekend " is also accused of starting a blaze that burned a couple of acres and an uninhabited mobile home.

Pashilk is scheduled to be arraigned later in the day. Hinchcliff says he will be charged in connection with 12 fires and one attempt to start a fire.

His lawyer has not returned calls seeking comment.

Investigators have not said what led them to arrest Pashilk and a search warrant affidavit in the case is sealed.

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11:45 a.m.

Las Vegas officials are warning of problems from smoke and air pollution caused by a huge wildfire burning about 200 miles away in California.

The Clark County Department of Air Quality said the advisory will be in effect Wednesday through Friday.

Officials are warning of potentially elevated levels of ozone and smoke, though they say unhealthy levels aren't occurring yet.

People who may be sensitive to air pollution, including young children, elderly people and those with respiratory problems, are encouraged to stay indoors.

The fire 60 miles east of Los Angeles has consumed nearly 47 square miles in Cajon Pass, a critical highway and rail corridor.

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9:45 a.m.

Fire officials say a huge wildfire 60 miles east of Los Angeles has destroyed a significant number of homes, but the number of losses isn't yet known.

San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig says he flew over the fire area Wednesday morning and describes it as "devastating." He says a lot of families will come home to nothing.

Veteran fire commanders say the blaze hit hard and fast after breaking out Tuesday in hot weather and drought-stricken terrain, and it spread with an intensity they hadn't seen before.

More than 34,000 homes and 82,000 residents are under evacuation warnings.

The fire has consumed nearly 47 square miles in Cajon Pass, a critical highway and rail corridor through mountain ranges that separate major population centers from the Mojave Desert.

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7:45 a.m.

As Northern California evacuees returned to their homes, fire crews overnight gained more ground on a blaze burning about two hours north of San Francisco.

About 4,000 people in the town of Clearlake were allowed to return home Tuesday and more could follow Wednesday.

The fire that started Aug. 13 destroyed 175 homes and other structures in the working-class town of Lower Lake.

Authorities on Monday arrested 40-year-old construction worker Damin Anthony Pashilk, who they say is responsible for setting the fire along with 16 smaller fires dating back to last summer. He is due in court Wednesday.

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7:20 a.m.

Authorities have greatly increased the estimated size of California's latest huge wildfire.

Fire officials say the blaze 60 miles east of Los Angeles has scorched nearly 47 square miles as of Wednesday morning, up from 28 square miles Tuesday night.

The blaze erupted late Tuesday morning in Cajon Pass and has grown rapidly. More than 34,000 homes and 82,000 people are under evacuation warnings.

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7:05 a.m.

Officials in charge of the battle against California's newest huge wildfire estimate that only about half of the 4,500 residents of the threatened town of Wrightwood have complied with evacuation orders.

The fire is climbing the flanks of the San Gabriel Mountains, where Wrightwood sits at an elevation around 5,900 feet.

Firefighters were advised of the Wrightwood situation at a dawn briefing Wednesday morning.

San Bernardino County Fire Department Battalion Chief Mark Peebles says it's very concerning and, in his words, "This is not the time to mess around."

The fire erupted late Tuesday morning in Cajon Pass 60 miles east of Los Angeles and exploded across thousands of acres, burning an unknown number of homes and shutting down key highways.

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6 a.m.

Southern California firefighters face another day of difficult weather conditions as they battle a huge wildfire that has driven more than 80,000 people from their homes and shut down major transportation routes.

The National Weather Service says conditions will be very warm and dry Wednesday, with gusty south to southwest winds and very low humidity levels " as low as 3 percent in the afternoon.

The fire broke out late Tuesday morning 60 miles east of Los Angeles in Cajon Pass and spread with astonishing speed over 28 square miles, burning an unknown number of homes and threatening many more.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that Pashilk is charged in connection with 12 fires and one attempt to start a fire.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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