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Crews shift to mop-up as Ventura County wildfire wanes

Fire crews aided by cooler, damper weather expect full containment of the Springs fire Monday.

May 05, 2013|By Ari Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times
  • Crews shift to mop-up operations at the Springs fire in Ventura County, aided by cooler, damper weather. Full containment is expected Monday.
Crews shift to mop-up operations at the Springs fire in Ventura County,… (Michael Robinson Chavez,…)

Hundreds of battle-weary firefighters made the transition to mop-up mode Sunday as the 28,000-acre Springs fire in Ventura County was declared 75% contained, with full containment expected Monday.

Several engine companies were sent home Sunday as hand crews worked to establish a fire break more than a mile long in the Hidden Valley area to complete containment of the blaze, which burned from Thousand Oaks to the ocean.

"We're going to have this thing out by tomorrow," Ventura County Fire Capt. Scott Dettore said. "Probably by Monday evening."

Although the cause of the fire remains under investigation, officials said Sunday that they had ruled out arson and instead believed the blaze was started by a small "undetermined roadside ignition of grass/debris."

The fire started Thursday at the edge of the southbound lanes of U.S. 101 near Thousand Oaks, about a quarter-mile north of the truck scales on the Conejo Grade, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

"The area is considered a collection point for fuels and ignition sources. Due to the topography, the fire quickly spread, fanned by strong east winds," the fire agency said in a statement.

At its peak, the blaze threatened about 4,000 homes, authorities said. Fifteen houses were damaged but none was destroyed. Six firefighters and one civilian suffered minor injuries.

Firefighters got a welcome reprieve Saturday with a dramatic change in the weather that brought significantly lower temperatures and high humidity. The humidity was so high Saturday that firefighters had trouble setting backfires.

All mandatory evacuations were lifted, and by Sunday morning the area was blanketed by some drizzle.

At the peak of the fire, more than 1,800 fire personnel battled the blaze. Firefighters and ground crews were deployed from across California and other states, including Oregon, Arizona, Idaho and New Mexico, because officials worried about the possibility of multiple fires in the region.

In an update posted Sunday morning at the command center near Camarillo Airport, fire officials reported "minimal fire activity" and that "remaining firefighters continue to construct control lines, mop up operations and patrol the fire perimeter."

Several wildfires continued to burn around California. A day-old fire in steep forestland in the San Jacinto Mountains in Riverside County has burned 650 acres and on Sunday was declared 75% contained.

The blaze, named the Gorgonio fire, is south of Banning, a town of 30,000 in the mountain pass between Riverside and Palm Springs. The blaze has not threatened homes and no evacuations were ordered, according to Cal Fire.

The blaze forced the closure of California 243, which winds through the San Jacinto Mountains and connects Banning with Idyllwild. The route, closed between Wesley Street in Banning and at Poppet Flats Road in the mountains, was partially reopened Sunday.

The fire occurred near the Summit fire, which began north of Banning on Wednesday. One home was destroyed in that 3,200-acre fire, and two firefighters were injured. That fire was near full containment Sunday.

Another wildfire has torched 6,700 acres of wilderness in Tehama County in Northern California.

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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