* Fire commander “a lot more optimistic”
* Burned area rises to 121,000 square acres
* Communications summit still threatened
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Firefighters battling a wildfire raging in the mountains of Los Angeles got their first big break in the seven-day blaze on Tuesday as higher humidity helped them push towering flames away from neighborhoods.
More than 121,000 acres (48,000 hectares) have burned above the heavily populated foothills 15 miles (25 km) north of downtown Los Angeles, around 16,000 acres (6,475 hectares) more than reported late Monday.
But growth has slowed and fire commander Mike Dietrich said at daybreak on Monday he was “a lot more optimistic.”
“We are still at five percent containment, however with firefighting activity that occurred last night and the last several days, I expect that will increase substantially today,” said Dietrich.
One downside of the higher humidity was the possibility of lightning that could ignite new fires in parched brush that has not burned for decades.
Fifty-three structures have been lost out of the 12,000 at risk in the area. Mount Wilson, a communications nexus and home to an historic observatory, was still very much threatened, Dietrich said.
Police continued to evacuate neighborhoods in the upper reaches of the foothills, although firefighters were able to do controlled burns overnight to push flames toward the forest.
More than 3,600 firefighters battled the blaze with help from water and retardant-dropping aircraft. Despite progress in controlling the fire, Dietrich said the crews working in 100 Fahrenheit (37 Celsius) heat “are fighting for every foot.”
So far, the cost to battle the so-called Station Fire has risen to nearly $14 million, a worrisome figure for a state battling with a ballooning deficit due to the poor economy.
This fire also comes before the most difficult months for wildfires in California, from September to November, when fierce winds increase the danger of big fires.
Writing by Mary Milliken, editing by Alan Elsner