Winds die down, but fire rages in California

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Saturday, May 4, 2013 - 1:28am

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- The strong winds that fueled a raging wildfire in the Los Angeles-area are expected to die down some Saturday, a welcome change for the army of firefighters battling the blaze.

The fire, which began Thursday morning, has damaged 15 homes,15 outbuildings and five commercial properties while torching 28,000 acres in the Ventura County area, fire authorities said.

"Onshore winds have begun to diminish this evening allowing for the expiration of all red flag warnings," the National Weather Service said late Friday.

The winds gusted to 45 mph the past two days, fueling the roaring flames.

Authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation Friday for the affluent Ventura County community of Hidden Valley, northwest of Los Angeles. Evacuations remained in effect Friday evening for several other areas.

The so-called Springs Fire was nearly out of control in Ventura County on Friday evening. More than 950 fire and law enforcement personnel contained 20% of the blaze near upscale homes and through the Santa Monica Mountains, the county fire department said.

Federal funding was made available to cover 75% of firefighting costs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced.

The Ventura County blaze, which was expected to reach the Pacific Ocean, crossed the scenic Pacific Coast Highway that separates the Santa Monica Mountains from the sea. Small fires damaged a military firing range, a Navy spokeswoman said.

Several timber backdrops at the range were partially or completely burned, but because the facility sits in wetlands next to a lagoon, the fires weren't a threat to Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu, said spokeswoman Kimberly Gearhart. Ammunition isn't stored at the facility, she said.

"If something catches fire, it's in the best possible (place) because it's isolated and it's near water," Gearhart said. "Our biggest concern right now is smoke because it's a very smoldering fire, and as the wind shifts, it either blows smoke toward or away from us."

Evacuation orders were in effect in several areas on Friday, but officials lifted orders for the campus of California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo and for the Dos Vientos community in Newbury Park, authorities said.

Because of the smoke, ash and winds, people in affected areas were urged to be cautious and to avoid unnecessary outdoor activities, the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District said.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers described the fire as a bad omen for California because the wildfire season isn't supposed to start until August or September.

Mountain chaparral and shrubs are dry because Los Angeles has received only half of its normal rainfall the past two years, Myers said. The vegetation is brown, instead of green from winter rain, he said.

The Los Angeles area has received less than 2 inches of rain since January, making the bone-dry region "definitely ripe for these fires," said William Patzert, a NASA climatologist.

But that could change soon. Rain showers could hit the area Sunday evening, forecasters say. 

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