Light rain and cooler temperatures improved the prospects for firefighters battling major blazes in the Leona Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains on Thursday, and officials predicted that the Leona fire would soon be fully controlled.
"We feel confident we've got this fire," said Henry Rodriguez, a Los Angeles County fire captain at the Leona blaze, which was 94% contained Thursday night after charring about 5,100 acres.
Officials at the 17,000-acre blaze in the mountains north of Azusa were more cautious.
"I'd say we're moderately optimistic, which is a lot more optimistic than we were Monday," said Ed Gililland, a fire information officer with the U.S. Forest Service. "But it's really rugged country, and it's hard to get men and equipment in there."
By midafternoon Thursday, sprinkles were falling on both fires and temperatures were as much as 20 degrees cooler than they had been earlier this week, when thermometers topped 100 degrees.
"Rain, by itself, probably won't put out a fire," said Capt. Brian Jordan of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. "But rain raises the humidity, and that cuts down on the flare-ups. And the cooler temperatures are a blessing for the firefighters. It makes it much easier for them to do their work."
The fires had destroyed at least 78 buildings, including a 64-year-old fire lookout tower atop South Mt. Hawkins, an old ranger station at Coldbrook, at least four year-round homes in the Leona Valley and more than a dozen vacation cabins near Crystal Lake. But no other structures were threatened, and neither blaze appeared to be expanding much by Thursday afternoon.
Most of the hundreds of residents who had fled the Leona Valley were back home.
Kaia Thomson, owner of the Cowhorse Ranch in Leona Valley, said she rode a horse out to survey the damage.
"It looked a lot different than I remember it," she said. "Everything is reduced to black and blacker. And you can still feel the heat radiating from the earth where it burned."
She said she saw signs of life: rabbits, lizards and some deer tracks through the ashes.
Gililland said there was still a long battle ahead in the steep mountain country 15 miles north of Azusa. The fire there was only 15% contained.
Times staff writer Cara Mia DiMassa contributed to this report.