California wildfires nearly fully surrounded

Natural Disasters Posted on

Firefighters neared full containment Thursday of the smoldering remnants of deadly Southern California wildfires that destroyed more than 50 homes and forced thousands of residents to flee.

The notorious Santa Ana winds continued to diminish, but weather remained a concern because of low humidity. Forecasters said warnings of conditions creating critically dry vegetation would be in effect in many areas until Friday night.

For people affected by the fires, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order suspending fees for replacement of many kinds of records and for late fees on such things as vehicle registrations. It also suspended a waiting period for unemployment insurance applicants and statutes that might delay debris cleanup.

Combined, the three worst blazes burned areas totaling more than 35 square miles since the fires broke out early Sunday amid howling Santa Anas. The fires killed one man directly, and a motorist died in a crash as a fire neared a highway.

The largest blaze, in hills above the western San Fernando Valley, was 90 percent contained Thursday evening, officials said. The fire has scorched more than 22 square miles and cost $7.9 million to battle. Investigators have determined it was ignited by a downed power line.

A nearly 8-square-mile fire at the eastern end of the valley was contained Thursday night. Firefighting costs there topped $4.4 million, the fire command said.

In San Diego County, a wildfire covering more than 6 square miles on the Camp Pendleton Marine base was 90 percent surrounded.

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