A brush fire that broke out Sunday near downtown Los Angeles threatened a densely populated, hilly neighborhood along a freeway as sizzling temperatures elevated fire danger across the West.

Crews knocked down the blaze in the Silver Lake neighborhood after it damaged two homes, destroyed three shed-like structures, scorched yards and sent trees up in flames.

Neighbors scrambled with garden hoses and buckets, while water-dropping helicopters and scores of firefighters chased embers and doused steep hillsides to keep the flames from spreading.

The blaze only charred 8 acres, but it put urban residents on alert to the hot, dry conditions that have helped wildfires spread rapidly across more remote places from the California coast to New Mexico.

A fire that has burned 12 square miles west of Santa Barbara stayed in check, but firefighters braced for the return of afternoon and evening gusts that fanned the flames earlier in the week, threatening hundreds of homes and leading to evacuations of popular coastal campgrounds. The fire was just over halfway contained.

A new wildfire that broke out Sunday forced the evacuation of hundreds of a small town of about 600 people in the California desert near the Mexico border.

It had surged to nearly 1.5 square miles amid triple-digit temperatures near the town of Potrero, which is just a few miles north of Tecate, Mexico, and about 40 miles southeast of San Diego.

In New Mexico, a 28-square-mile fire that erupted last week and destroyed 24 homes in the Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque was largely uncontained. But higher humidity overnight allowed crews to strengthen lines around the fire and keep a lookout for hot spots where flames could jump the line.

In eastern Arizona, a fire that has burned 19 square miles southwest of Show Low advanced south, but containment increased to 40 percent.

The Los Angeles fire erupted near a freeway, with flames soaring up tall trees and sending heavy smoke across the road.

Paul Gaffner had been swimming at a pool a few minutes from his home and was planning to run errands when he saw heavy smoke near his house.

"Man, that fire is at my house," he said he thought.

When he arrived, his neighbor was hosing down flames in his backyard. In his flip-flops and shorts, he joined the fight as neighbors chipped in help protect their houses.

"It was a lot going on," Gaffner said as he handed out bottles of Gatorade to firefighters. "You've got it in front of you, you don't have time to panic."