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Firefighters mop up remnants of Southern California wildfire as much-needed rain falls

Posted: 05/5/2013 11:40 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 05/7/2013 7:27 AM

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CAMARILLO, Calif. - Rains moved across Southern California on Monday, dousing remnants of a wildfire that blackened thousands of acres in coastal mountains and bringing much-needed moisture to a region left parched by a dry winter.

The 44-square-mile burn area in the western Santa Monica Mountains was 85 per cent surrounded, and firefighters worked in muddy and slippery conditions to complete containment.

Ventura County Fire spokesman Tony McHale said the wet weather significantly reduced fire activity. There were no remaining open flames, but firefighters remained on the lookout for flare-ups, he said.

The rains were expected to continue, and the fire was expected to be contained, on Tuesday.

The showers, heavy at times, marked a complete reversal of conditions that rapidly spread the blaze after it erupted early Thursday along U.S. 101 near the communities of Camarillo Springs and Thousand Oaks.

Dry and gusty Santa Ana winds blew in from the northeast toward the coast that morning, sending relative humidity levels plunging to single digits as temperatures soared into the 90s. With seasonal rainfall levels running only about a third of normal, vegetation was already dead or dry and ready to burn.

Investigators ruled out arson as the cause of the fire. Instead, they believe it was started by an undetermined roadside ignition of grass and debris on the edge of U.S. 101, said Tom Piranio, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"The topography plus the hot, windy weather created a perfect storm for the fire to spread fast," he said.

The fire threatened 4,000 homes but damaged only 15 as it swept past neighbourhoods and into Point Mugu State Park, which sprawls over peaks and canyons down to scenic Sycamore Cove on the Pacific shoreline.

State parks District Superintendent Craig Sap said more than 85 per cent of the 22-square-mile park burned, and the result was somewhat disorienting with the absence of familiar vegetation revealing previously hidden features.

"It's a stark landscape," he said.

A preliminary assessment of losses included a building, an electrical distribution system, campground vegetation and signage. Sap estimated the total damage at $290,000.

Despite the likelihood of rock falls, runoff problems and damage to fire roads, Sap noted that a silver lining of the fire would likely be sprouting of some species whose seeds are triggered by fire.

"There are plants you never see until you have a fire like this," he said.

The National Weather Service said showers and temperatures as much as 10 degrees below normal would last into Tuesday.

In Northern California, meanwhile, a fire that has blackened 11 square miles of wilderness in Tehama County was 80 per cent contained and was no longer an imminent threat to structures.

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