Chilly temperatures and dense fog today helped stall the deadly wildfires that raced across Southern California as a few hardy residents waited nervously to see if flames would claim the last sizeable town still threatened.
Some 15,000 people evacuated resort town of Big Bear Lake in the mountains north-east of Los Angeles – the only major community still threatened after a week of fires that have killed 20 people, destroyed more than 2,800 homes and burned nearly 750,000 acres.
Crews were working to cut nearly 30 miles of fire line, clearing everything down to the ground and creating some fire breaks as wide as 10 bulldozers. While firefighters expected more than a quarter inch of rain by early Saturday, strong winds were expected to return next week.
“We’ve got a sleeping giant out there,” Forest Service spokeswoman Sue Exline said at Big Bear Lake. ”We’ve got to get these in now.”
Seven fires burned across four counties as patches of heavy fog moved into the mountains overnight. Friday’s high was expected to be a chilly 6.5 C (44 F) at Big Bear Lake, with a chance of snow by nightfall, but winds could still gust to 31 mph.
Firefighting efforts were both aided and hindered by the fog, which brings needed moisture but also extremely low visibility, prompting worries of injury in thick forests or on dark roads.
Meanwhile in San Diego County, moist air helped firefighters battling the Cedar Fire near Julian, a popular weekend getaway known for its vineyards and apple orchards.
The fire – the largest individual blaze in California history at more than 270,000 acres, according to state officials – “is finally showing some sign of winding down,” San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender said.