Evacuations lifted as California blaze nearly controlled

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - All evacuation orders were lifted on Sunday in California as firefighters battling a massive wildfire near Los Angeles said they had contained 60 per cent of the blaze.

The inferno, the biggest in a series of wildfires fueled by tinder-dry brush and soaring temperatures this week - months before the usual wildfire season - is expected to be fully under control by Monday, said the California state agency coordinating the efforts.

"There is minimal fire activity on the Springs Incident," CAL FIRE said on its website. "Remaining firefighters continue to construct control lines, mop up operations and patrol the fire perimeter. Fire suppression repair and rehabilitation has begun within the fire area."

At its height, some 1,900 personnel - including from Los Angeles and other neighbouring areas - were battling the wind-fanned flames, helped by 247 fire engines, six air tankers and 11 helicopters.

Those numbers have since decreased as the danger appeared to be controlled.

The fire had been said to threaten about 4,000 homes in the rugged hills north of Malibu, some 65km west of Los Angeles, and hundreds of residents had been forced to flee.

But just 25 outbuildings were destroyed and another 15 homes, five commercial properties and 15 outbuildings were damaged by the flames, authorities said.

Five firefighters received minor injuries - including two from falling and three with debris in their eyes.

Another firefighter and a civilian were injured in a traffic accident away from the fire, said the Ventura County Fire Department.

The total area burnt was 11,331ha - a figure that had not changed since Friday, when the fire, fuelled by strong Santa Ana winds and temperatures in the 30s Celsius, spread north.

But cooler temperatures and higher humidity on Saturday helped firefighters make progress.

Air humidity, which had dropped to below five per cent on Thursday when the blaze erupted, was up to 75 per cent by late Saturday, and rain was forecast for Sunday through Tuesday.

Authorities have re-opened the scenic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) - a section of which was closed on Thursday and Friday - although some local roads remained closed except to residents.

And California State University at Channel Islands was to re-open Sunday evening, according to its website, after cancelling classes and activities at its Camarillo campus since Thursday.

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.

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.

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