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California evacuations called off as wildfires controlled

More than 21,000 homes were evacuated in San Diego and Santa Barbara

More than 20,000 people are returning to their homes in California after raging wildfires were brought under control.

Evacuations were ordered in and round San Diego when flames that erupted in the fire-prone Rancho Bernardo area spread across 700 acres, threatening houses.

Another fire 250 miles to the north, in Santa Barbara County, also died down on Tuesday evening and almost all evacuation orders for 1,200 homes and businesses were called off.

No injuries or property damage have been reported from either fire but they continue to burn.

“At the point the fire is right now, we believe we have a pretty good handle on it,” San Diego’s Fire Chief, Javier Mainar, said.

“We hope to do some more work through the night and into tomorrow [Wednesday], but I think the largest part of the emergency has passed.”

Driven by hot winds, the flames spread from canyons to approach expensive homes on Tuesday, including in Rancho Santa Fe, which is known for its mansions and wealthy lifestyle.

Jonathon Collopy, a resident of Fairbanks Ranch neighbourhood, surveys the Bernardo Fire across the street from his house near San Diego on May 13.

Smoke billowed over northern San Diego and whirling ash and embers started small fires wherever they fell.

Firefighters got to some blazes just in time as they were only feet away from homes.

Helicopters and aeroplanes dropped water to douse them.

At least five schools were evacuated as a precaution and San Diego authorities issued between 16,000 and 17,000 evacuation orders.

The fires started after months of drought in the arid US state, where unseasonably warm temperatures has made the land tinder dry.

Parts of Los Angeles has recorded just 15.4 centimetre of rain since July last year – less than half its average rainfall.

“Fire season last year never really ended in Southern California,” said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

His agency has responded to more than 1,350 fires since the start of 2014, almost double the average of 700 by this time of year.

Additional reporting by AP