Fire crews winning battle against US wildfires

Firefighters aided by damp weather made progress against the last of Southern California’s big wildfires, hoping to squash the remaining flames before the possible return of winds this week.

Firefighters aided by damp weather made progress against the last of Southern California’s big wildfires, hoping to squash the remaining flames before the possible return of winds this week.

There was a chance of a weak-to-moderate Santa Ana wind pattern on Friday and Saturday, but the National Weather Service said wind speeds should be “half or less” than those of the dry, withering blasts that fanned conflagrations last week.

In the meantime, clouds drawn ashore by low pressure over the Pacific Ocean streamed across the region and forecasters predicted some chance of sprinkles through Wednesday morning.

The flow of ocean air “should provide a literal breath of fresh air, flush out the smoke and improve the air quality”, the US Weather Service said.

Fire crews were already benefiting in some areas, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We continue to make great progress,” he said.

The 58,401-acre Ranch Fire north west of Los Angeles in Ventura County was fully contained yesterday and crews were pushing to complete lines around six other big blazes.

Earlier California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Fred Daskoski said: “It’s a little premature to be celebrating, that’s for sure.

“We’re looking for full control within a week but if we get any of these winds returning, there is a possibility that a couple of spots could have a blowout, and then we’d be off to the races again.”

The wind gusted last week up to 100mph, pushing flames across more than 500,000 acres in seven Southern California counties.

The state Office of Emergency Services damage tally rose yesterday to 2,786 structures destroyed, including more than 2,000 homes.

Nearly all mandatory evacuation orders had been lifted, and victims have begun assessing damage and trying to work out where to go next.

Nearly 8,300 people had contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance, said spokeswoman Kelly Hudson.

Seven deaths were directly attributed to the fires, including those of four suspected illegal immigrants, whose burned bodies were found near the US-Mexico border last Thursday.

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