State of emergency declared for Southern California wildfires

California's acting governor declared a state of emergency Tuesday for two major wildfires that have destroyed dozens of homes and killed one person in the Los Angeles area.

The declaration by Tom Torlakson, who is in charge of the state while Gov. Jerry Brown and other top officials attend the Democratic National Convention, frees up state resources and temporarily sets aside regulations for the firefight and the recovery.

The fire in rugged wilderness between the northern edge of Los Angeles and the suburban city of Santa Clarita has burned 58 1/2 square miles and at its peak forced about 20,000 people to evacuate their homes, though most have now returned.

Authorities said Tuesday that they had managed to contain 25 percent of the so-called Sand fire, meaning the flames there had been isolated and were not expected to spread. They warned, however, that the fire was still extremely dangerous and would take time to put out.

"We're not really out of the woods," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Justin Correll. "We're not ready to relax. There's still a lot of firefighting to do."

The 3,000 firefighters faced another day of temperatures in the 90s to low 100s as they fought the fire, aided by fleets aircraft dropping retardant and water and hundreds of fire engines.

Some neighborhoods in Santa Clarita, population about 200,000, remained off limits Tuesday because of the fire. But most evacuations ordered for about 10,000 homes with an estimated 20,000 residents were lifted.

Lane Leavitt, who trains stunt actors and specializes in setting people on fire for movies and television, was relieved when he returned home Monday evening to find his home and business fully intact.

"It's a miracle everything was there," he said from his home across the street from a ranch used to make movies where the sets were incinerated.

Leavitt and his son on Saturday used extinguishers to battle a 50-foot circle of flames in the backyard before firefighters arrived.

Without that effort, he said, the fire probably would have consumed six tall pine trees that could have exploded and sent flaming embers onto his house, with wind carrying them to hundreds of others nearby.

Friends and clients from around the world called and texted Leavitt, worried he lost everything after he abandoned the house with fire burning on two sides of it.

He texted back: "We're still standing."

Meanwhile, the victim of the fire was identified Tuesday as Robert Bresnick, 67, whose burned body was found in his car Saturday.

A woman living in the house Bresnick was visiting left with firefighters but he went back inside the house. Bresnick's body was found about 20 minutes later after flames tore through the neighborhood, said Los Angeles County Coroner's Assistant Ed Winter.

Earlier Tuesday, another wildfire caused officials to close the signature state parks of California's grand Big Sur coast.

Closures as of Tuesday included Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Andrew Molera State Park and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, among others. California state parks spokesman Dennis Weber says facilities aren't endangered but officials decided to get the public out of the areas for safety and to keep roads clear and avoid exposure to bad air quality.

"It is folly to predict where this fire will go," Weber said.

The Big Sur fire threatened a long stretch of pristine, forested mountains hugging the coast and sent smoke billowing over the famed Pacific Coast Highway, which remained open with no flames visible to motorists but a risk that the blaze could reach the roadway.

The Big Sur fire, which started Friday, had grown Tuesday to 30 square miles, but was just 10 percent contained. Twenty homes have burned in the zone, residents of 300 more were ordered to evacuate and more than 2,000 firefighters were trying to douse the blaze.

"At any point in time this fire can change directions, can spread very quickly and if that happens there could be embers that fly a mile ahead of the main fire," said Richard Cordova, a state fire captain.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.