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Cooler weather aids fight against Calif. wildfire

Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST
Caption
(AP photo)
A firefighter keeps watch as the wildfire burns along a hillside Friday in Point Mugu , Calif. Firefighters got a break as gusty winds turned into breezes, but temperatures remained high and humidity levels are expected to soar as cool air moved in from the ocean and the Santa Ana winds retreated.

CAMARILLO, Calif. – A big cool-down in weather calmed a huge wildfire burning in Southern California coastal mountains Saturday, and firefighters worked to cut miles of containment lines while conditions were favorable.

High winds and withering hot, dry air were replaced by the normal flow of damp air off the Pacific, significantly reducing fire activity.

"The fire isn't really running and gunning," said Tom Kruschke, a Ventura County Fire Department spokesman.

The 43-square-mile blaze at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains was 56 percent surrounded.

The humidity level rose so much that an overnight effort to burn away fuel at one section of the fire did not work well, Kruschke said.

Despite the favorable conditions, evacuation orders remained in place for residences in several areas.

Nearly 2,000 firefighters using engines, bulldozers and aircraft worked to corral the blaze.

Firefighting efforts were focused on the fire's east side, rugged canyons that are a mix of public and private lands, Kruschke said.

The National Weather Service said an approaching low pressure system would bring a 20 percent chance of showers Sunday afternoon, with the likelihood increasing into the night and on Monday.

"Anything we get is going to help us," Kruschke said.

The change in the weather was also expected to bring gusty winds to some parts of Southern California, but well away from the fire area.

Despite its size and speed of growth, the fire that broke out Thursday and quickly moved through neighborhoods of Camarillo Springs and Thousand Oaks has caused damage to just 15 homes, though it has threatened thousands.

The fire also swept through Point Mugu State Park, a hiking and camping area that sprawls between those communities and the ocean. Park district Superintendent Craig Sap told the Ventura County Star (http://bit.ly/18CKxY4) that two old, unused ranch-style homes in the backcountry burned. Restrooms and campgrounds also were damaged. Sap estimated repairs would cost $225,000.

The only injuries as of Saturday were a civilian and a firefighter involved in a traffic accident away from the fire.

Residents were grateful so many homes were spared.

"It came pretty close. All of these houses — these firemen did a tremendous job. Very, very thankful for them," Shayne Poindexter said. Flames came within 30 feet of the house he was building.

On Friday, the wildfire reached the ocean, jumped Pacific Coast Highway and burned a Navy base rifle range on the beach at Point Mugu. When winds reversed direction from offshore to onshore, the fire stormed back up canyons toward inland neighborhoods.

The blaze is one of more than 680 wildfires in the state so far this year — about 200 more than average.

East of Los Angeles in Riverside County, a new fire that broke out Saturday afternoon burned 650 acres of wilderness south of Banning. It was 20 percent contained. Banning has been flanked by a nearly 5-square-mile fire to the north since Wednesday. Firefighters contained 85 percent of that fire, which destroyed one home shortly after it broke out.

In Northern California, a fire that has blackened more than 10 square miles of wilderness in Tehama County was a threat to 10 unoccupied summer homes near the community of Butte Meadows, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Thunderstorms Saturday were expected to bring erratic winds but little rain to the area about 200 miles north of San Francisco.

Nearly 1,300 firefighters were on the lines and the blaze, which started Wednesday, was 20 percent contained.

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