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Calif. blaze may signal hard season

5:46 AM, May 6, 2013   |    comments
CAMARILLO, CA - MAY 4: An expansive luxury home sits in the distance as firefighters take a break while constructing firelines by hand at the Springs fire on May 4, 2013 near Camarillo, California. Improving weather conditions are helping firefighters get the upper hand on the wildfire which has grown to 28,000 acres and is now 56 percent contained. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
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A fortuitous turn of weather Sunday aided the battle against a Southern California wildfire that has driven 2,000 people from their homes, but the severity of the spring blaze did not bode well for the region's coming wildfire season.

Cooler temperatures, damp air and occasional showers rolled in off the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, supporting firefighters pitted against the 44-square-mile blaze at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains, Ventura County Fire Capt. Dan Horton said.

The so-called Springs Fire, which began Thursday amid a hot, dry spell, was 60% contained Sunday, and Horton said full containment is expected late Monday.

"All evacuations orders have been lifted," Horton said. "That's great news. We're mopping it up, taking care of hot spots, keeping an eye on everything."

The bad news, Horton said, is that a blaze like this one typically doesn't strike until deep into summer or fall, after the summer's dry heat has withered hillside vegetation.

"The hot, dry conditions we have seen are usually what we see in July," Horton said. "It does raise our level of concern. If this is any indication, we are definitely looking at a difficult fire season ahead."

The blaze is one of more than 680 wildfires in the state this year - about 200 more than average. The state has seen a severe drought during the past year, and the water content of California's snowpack is only 17% of normal.

"What we're experiencing across California, including in Ventura, is incredibly dry conditions," said state Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant. "Fires are burning a lot faster and a lot more intensely than they would in a normal May."

The potential for more wildfires is only going to increase, he said.

"Unfortunately, as we move into the summer months, it's only going to get drier," he said.

In Ventura, Horton said six people suffered minor injuries, five of them firefighters. Fifteen homes were damaged, and 26 outbuildings were destroyed

He said nearly 2,000 fire personnel, 247 engines, 11 helicopters, six air tankers and other equipment had been called in to battle the fire that started Thursday about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Those numbers will fall quickly as firefighters gain control, he said.

The cause of the fire has not been determined.

Laura Petrecca and John Bacon, USA TODAY

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