Dropping temperatures and rising humidity aided the battle with a blaze that has burned more than 4,100 acres since Friday in a remote area of Los Padres National Forest.
The fire, centered about 12 miles north of Ojai, has been 90% contained and fire officials were "guardedly optimistic" that it could be fully contained by tonight.
Although the weather had improved by Tuesday afternoon, thick undergrowth and dry conditions were still stoking the flames, and the rugged terrain made access difficult for firefighters, said Susan Mockenhaupt, fire information officer for the U. S. Forest Service office in Goleta.
Some crews had to walk three miles from their drop-off point to reach the fire. Eight Forest Service air tankers hampered the fire's progress by dropping a gelatinous, red-dyed fire retardant ahead of the flames.
Mockenhaupt described the area as high desert, covered with sagebrush and a mix of pines. "It's a pretty terrain, rugged and steep in some places," she said. "It's an unroaded area, and it's being studied for inclusion as a wilderness area."
The fire, if kept under control, could in the long run be beneficial for the wildlife and the timber in the area, Mockenhaupt said.
"If the vegetation is too dense, they can't get through to feed," she said. It will help the timber too. It cleans out the debris, burns old snags and helps new trees to come up."
Firefighters would allow the fire to burn itself out, but the dense undergrowth is so dry it could burn hot enough to cause a firestorm, Mockenhaupt said.
The Forest Service already had a team composed of a hydrologist, biologist and a soil scientist on the scene Tuesday to evaluate the damage to watersheds, creeks and wildlife, and determine what will need to be done to rehabilitate the area, Mockenhaupt said. There is also an archeologist on the team to look for Indian sites that might be exposed by the fire.
By Southern California standards, the fire is not terribly destructive. "It is bigger than 95% of the fires we get, but in terms of Southern California fires, it's still a small one," Mockenhaupt said. "We're notorious for burning a lot of acres--we get real monsters here."
Two years ago, the Wheeler fire burned for 21 days and scorched 118,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest.