OJAI, Calif. – Cooler weather helped firefighters who were slowly encircling one of the largest, longest-burning wildfires in state history on Monday as dying Santa Ana winds were replaced by cooler ocean breezes.
The hot winds from the northeast were down from 40 mph to 10 mph and were colliding with an onshore flow coming up from the south.
Flames that had grown more active over the weekend were "pretty much lazy," said Larry Comerford of the U.S. Forest Service.
"We're slowly gaining the upper hand," he said.
The Day Fire in Los Padres National Forest had burned about 134,000 acres, or nearly 210 square miles, since Labor Day. It was 41 percent contained.
By Monday, a call for voluntary evacuations of 300 homes and a college east of Ojai were called off. No homes were in immediate danger, although residents of Ojai and other towns within 10 miles of the fire were told to stay alert.
On Sunday, fire officials brought in a DC-10 jetliner to dump 48,000 gallons of fire retardant. It doused 2 1/2 miles of fire line. Officials credited the huge plane with knocking back the edge of the fire that crept toward the town of Ojai, an artists' enclave popular with tourists.
The plane did not fly Monday but 25 smaller aircraft were in the air.
Calling it "one of the largest wildland fires in recent California history," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Ventura County late Sunday. The move clears the way for assistance from the governor's emergency services office and state funds for rebuilding and recovery.
As winds subsided, local residents appeared less anxious. More than 3,000 firefighters and emergency workers were in the area.
"If something major happens, it would really be an act of God because this area has just been covered so completely by the fire service. It's pretty hard to think too much is going to happen," Mike Gram, 54, said during a stop at an Ojai grocery store.
On Saturday, embers from the fire spread flames to an additional 7,000 acres in the canyons above Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, about 75 miles north of Los Angeles.
The fire has cost $36.7 million to fight, with that figure increasing about $1 million a day.
Elsewhere, a fire in Angeles National Forest in northern Los Angeles County was fully contained Monday after consuming about 100 acres of brush. No buildings were damaged.