LOS ANGELES – Firefighters made “excellent” progress in battling a massive California wildfire that threatened 4,000 homes near Los Angeles, nearly doubling the area under control, they said.
The inferno, the biggest of a series of wildfires fueled by tinder-dry brush and soaring temperatures this week in California — months before the usual wildfire season — could be fully under control by Monday.
“With the milder weather conditions, firefighters are making excellent progress on extending fire containment lines,” said an afternoon update from the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD).
The three-day blaze forced hundreds of residents to evacuate and damaged 15 homes in the rugged hills north of Malibu some 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Los Angeles.
It was fueled by strong Santa Ana winds and temperatures in the 90s (30s Celsius).
By Saturday the total area burnt remained at 28,000 acres (11,332 hectares) — the same as Friday — “and that figure is not expected to change significantly,” it said in an online statement.
Authorities re-opened scenic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) — a section of which was closed on Thursday and Friday — although some local roads remained closed.
The National Weather Service lifted its red-flag warning for wildfire risk, while temperatures dropped to the mid-60s (17-19 degrees Celsius).
Air humidity, which had dropped to below five percent on Thursday when the blaze erupted, was up to 75 percent by late Saturday, and some rain was forecast for Sunday.
No fire-related casualties were reported over the three days, although a firefighter and a civilian were injured in a traffic accident away from the fire, said the VCFD.
The fire forced the closure of a university campus and ravaged a beach shooting range at the Point Magu naval base. In addition to the damaged homes, it destroyed some 25 outbuildings and damaged another 15.
Some celebrities, including actors Jamie Foxx and Tom Selleck, live near the evacuation area. Many of the homes were luxury ranches that had stables of horses and other animals.
California State University at Channel Islands cancelled classes and activities at its Camarillo site since Thursday, but planned to re-open Sunday, according to its website.
Wildfires are common across the western United States in the summer, and in Southern California, they are often fanned by strong offshore Santa Ana winds later in the year, in the fall or winter.
Another blaze erupted Friday in Glendale, a residential suburb just 10 miles north of Los Angeles, burning about 75 acres (30 hectares) of brush and forcing some local evacuations and the closure a nearby freeway.