Far Fewer Flames In California

Firefighters expressed relief Thursday after cooler weather helped them tame wildfires that erupted unseasonably early this week, burning across nearly 29,000 acres of Southern California brushlands and forest.

Temperatures dropped and gusts slowed during the week, allowing firefighters to tighten control lines and lift evacuation orders for residents near two destructive blazes in Riverside County. Together, the two fires scorched more than 25,000 acres and damaged or destroyed dozens of structures in the inland region east of Los Angeles.

"Morale was boosted when the cooler weather came in, absolutely," said Jim Boano of the California Department of Forestry. "This early in the season, it's always nice to have any help we can get because it's going to be a long season."

The wildfire season was declared open on Monday, three weeks earlier than last year, when deadly blazes destroyed thousands of homes and didn't end until February.

The nearly 16,500-acre Cerrito Fire in Riverside County was 90 percent contained, and officials expected to have it fully surrounded by Friday night.

The other big Riverside County blaze, the 8,900-acre Eagle Fire south of Temecula, was 85 percent contained, with full containment expected soon. The blaze destroyed 41 structures, including 14 homes.

Evacuation orders were lifted Wednesday as firefighters gained the upper hand, allowing hundreds of people to return to their homes near the two blazes.

Firefighters also made headway in shoring up lines around a fire burning in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles, in Los Padres National Forest. The 1,127-acre Cachuma Fire was 75 percent contained Thursday night.

The fire, which broke out on Monday, only increased by about 17 acres between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, and full containment was expected Saturday, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Ed Linquist said.

"It's all about the weather," he said. "The weather played into our hands, and the people on the ground took full advantage of it."

The Cachuma fire burned one residence and more than 30 vehicles.