FAWNSKIN, Calif. -- Fire crews -- helped by higher humidity, cooler temperatures and more personnel -- gained the upper hand Monday on a wildfire near Big Bear Lake.
The Butler 2 fire, which started early Friday afternoon west of Fawnskin and spread through steep, forested terrain, was 53% contained by Monday evening, up from 12% a day earlier.
Meanwhile, better visibility enabled authorities, who once believed that as many as about 18,000 acres had been scorched, to revise their estimate downward to slightly more than 14,000 acres.
Still, a mandatory evacuation imposed Saturday in Fawnskin, a town of 1,200 residents near Butler Peak, remained in effect. In addition, voluntary evacuations continued in Lucerne Valley, Green Valley Lake, Running Springs and Arrowbear.
U.S. Forest Service spokesman Lee Bentley called the situation by late Monday a "tremendous improvement." He said the threat to Lucerne Valley, in particular, was greatly reduced.
Firefighters' numbers grew to 2,505 Monday, up from 2,245 the day before. They benefited, Bentley said, from overnight humidity that climbed to 60%, daytime temperatures that never exceeded 70 degrees and mild winds.
Their efforts were hindered briefly, though, when a single-engine air tanker that was dropping retardant on the fire lost power about 1:15 p.m. and attempted to land in a vacant field off Fox Farm Road, Bentley said.
During the landing, the plane's wheels collapsed, causing it to stop on its belly and wing, but the pilot walked away unharmed, Bentley said.
Plane use was suspended for about an hour to assess safety.
Authorities said Monday that a second firefighter suffered an ankle injury, the same injury suffered by the first firefighter hurt battling the blaze.
The progress in containing the blaze enabled authorities to close two evacuation centers, leaving one operating at Pine Summit Christian Camp in Big Bear Lake.
One Fawnskin evacuee, Karen Forsberg, said she has lived in the town for a year, having left Hollywood in hopes of finding a better environment for her daughter, now 7.
Forsberg was philosophical about the fire.
"It's life," she said. "It's a constant cycle. Fires are a natural part of life in the mountains. It's nature's way of clearing out the brush. If you want to be a part of that life, you have to take the good with the bad and the beautiful with the ugly."
Winds of 9 to 15 mph blowing from the southwest had not exacerbated the fire but had not quelled it either, Bentley said. No wind would be best.
"If Mother Nature works with us, we'll have it out in a reasonable amount of time," Bentley said earlier in the day. "If not, this fire will take us all the way out to the desert."
Fire crews have shut down Highway 18 and are using it as the southern break for the fire.
People with health conditions -- particularly the young and elderly with lung or heart conditions -- should be especially careful to avoid smoky areas and to contact a doctor at the appearance of pain or tightness in the chest, shortness of breath or severe fatigue, San Bernardino County health officials said.
For mountain residents, wildfires come with the territory.
In the Cedar Glen community near Lake Arrowhead, burned-out foundations jut out of hillsides like tombstones amid shriveled sticks that used to be pine and alder trees. Cedar Glen lost 336 houses in the Old fire of 2003.
Laurie Boyd, 56, who lost her home in that fire, is one of about 40 Cedar Glen residents who have rebuilt. She moved back in 2005. She said the view from her new porch took some getting used to.
"I had 25 trees on my property. Now I have two," she said.
Without the shady canopy, she has to use an air conditioner to cool her house during summers. She didn't even have an air conditioner in the old house.
"It's hot. I feel like this is the new high desert," she said. "It's not the same place, but I still totally love it."
On Monday, a San Diego County wildfire burning east of Julian had blackened 850 acres and was 70% contained.
Fire officials said the so-called Angel fire was ignited by an illegal campfire and was expected to be contained by Wednesday.
About 400 people have been evacuated from Whispering Pines.
One vacation home was destroyed and five outbuildings were damaged.
The Associated Press contributed to this report