Southern California wildfire 30 percent

May 13 [Mon], 2013, 19:45
By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) - A fierce wildfire threatening 4,000 homes northwest of Los Angeles was about 30 percent contained on Saturday as higher humidity and cooler temperatures helped firefighters, fire department spokesmen said.

The fire in coastal Ventura County has blackened about 28,000 acres of rugged brush land since it started on Thursday. It was not expected to be under control until May 13, Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Tom Kruschke said.

A drop from record-high temperatures on Friday and lighter, cooler winds off the Pacific Ocean helped the 1,900 firefighters brought in from across California.

"We're getting much more favorable weather conditions here. We don't have the high winds and the high temperatures," Kruschke said.

Light rain forecast for Sunday and heavier rain expected for Monday and Tuesday also could help firefighters and aircraft battling what authorities are calling the Springs Fire.

About 4,000 homes have been threatened by the fire and 15 damaged. No injuries have been reported from the fire, but a firefighter and a civilian were hurt in a vehicle collision, the department said on its website.

A spokesman for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department said an evacuation order affecting several thousand people had been lifted for all but a small area.

Less than 12,000 acres had burned since the mid-April start of the Southern California fire season, until the sharp increase this week with the Springs Fire and five smaller blazes around the state, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The department had moved ahead its official start date for the season by two weeks because of dry conditions, already at levels typical for June or July, Berlant said. Snow pack in California's Sierra Nevada mountains is 17 percent of normal.

Some weather forecasters have predicted the season will get worse with a summer of high temperatures and drought throughout much of the U.S. West.

The fire forced the closure of California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo, where the temperature was a record 96 degrees Fahrenheit (36 Celsius) on Friday. It is tentatively scheduled to reopen on Sunday, the school said on its website.

The Point Mugu U.S. Naval Air Station has lifted its order that non-essential personnel stay home because of the fire. A base housing unit was evacuated on Friday because of heavy smoke.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Vicki Allen)