WEAVERVILLE, Calif. -- Ray Proffitt's home is an island of green amid a sea of black ash.
Before the flames and heat of a raging wildfire forced him and half his town to clear out Tuesday night, the 75-year-old had trained a garden hose on his home to try to save it. On Wednesday, he found his three-car garage destroyed but his house still standing.
"I had to make a last-ditch effort," Proffitt said. "When the trees started crowning and exploding, I left."
With firefighters still digging containment lines against the flames, residents began returning Wednesday to this town about 200 miles north of San Francisco. A day earlier, fire officials had ordered half the town of 3,550 to evacuate.
Twelve structures, including homes, were destroyed by the blaze that had grown from sparks along a highway to 1,680 acres. Wednesday night, it was about two-thirds contained.
The Weaverville fire was one of 27 large blazes burning Wednesday on more than 229,400 acres in the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
About 100 miles south of Weaverville, Mendecino County authorities on Wednesday arraigned a man on murder charges for the deaths of two pilots who were killed when their planes collided while fighting the 270-acre blaze the suspect allegedly started.
Prosecutors say remnants of a methamphetamine lab were found near the source of the blaze.
Investigators in Weaverville believe sparks from a car started the fire there in five spots along a highway two miles west of town, said California Department of Forestry spokesman Kevin Colburn.
Weaverville's Main Street, a quaint collection of cafes, restaurants and shops usually filled with tourist in the summer months, was almost deserted with only firefighters walking the streets.
"We're very concerned the winds could pick up and we could be in the same situation again," said Del Walters, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry.
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