LAKE ARROWHEAD, Calif. – Firefighters Sunday hoped to hold on to the strong gains they made against Southern California blazes, despite a forecast of warmer, drier weather and a continuing threat to some homes.
The blistering Santa Ana winds that whipped fires over more than a half-million acres (200,000 hectares) earlier in the week were replaced by light breezes and even some rain on Saturday but another change in direction was expected to bring drier weather to Orange and San Diego counties.
"We're still cautiously optimistic" of making progress, said Chris Caswell with the Orange County Fire Authority.
The fires have torched 1,790 homes but more than a dozen had been surrounded and nine others were 40 to 97 percent contained.
Blazes continued to burn in the Lake Arrowhead resort region of the towering San Bernardino Mountains, 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Los Angeles. They also burned in rugged wilderness above isolated canyon communities of Orange County, southeast of Los Angeles. A blaze 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of San Diego stopped its advance toward the mountain Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Saturday visited a command post near Orange County's town of Julian.Santiago Canyon fire to announce assistance for people with losses, warn of contracting scams, and pledge to find whoever set the nearby blaze that continued to threaten homes after destroying 14.
Addressing controversy over state rules that caused delay in getting military aircraft into use against the fires, Schwarzenegger said it sometimes takes disaster "to really wake everyone up."
"There are things that we could improve on and I think this is what we are going to do because a disaster like this ... in the end is a good vehicle, a motivator for everyone to come together," he said.
Seven deaths have been directly attributed to the fires, including those of four suspected illegal immigrants, whose burned bodies were found near the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday.
Eleven Mexicans were being treated at a San Diego hospital for burns suffered in the wildfires after crossing the border illegally, the Mexican government confirmed Saturday. Four were in critical condition.
About 4,400 people remained in 28 shelter sites in Southern California, while others waited out the fires in makeshift encampments.
In the Rancho Bernardo section of San Diego, mortgage broker Mike Bartholemew, 37, removed rotten food from his refrigerator Saturday as he waited for cleaners to vacuum soot from inside his home, which survived the flames.
Bartholemew said it was eerie to be surrounded by ruined homes but he was anxious to come back home as soon as electricity was restored.
"I could move to Indiana, but they have tornados and floods," he said. "Everywhere you go in the country you get something. Here we have earthquakes and fires."