May 7, 2013 / 12:36 AM / 6 years ago

Firefighters, helped by rain, mop up California wildfire

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Cool winds and rain helped firefighters mop up the remains of a fast-burning California wildfire on Monday that had threatened 4,000 homes in an early start to an expected busy wildfire season.

The Springs Fire, which started in the Southern California community of Camarillo and burned all the way to the Pacific Ocean, charred 28,000 acres and destroyed 10 outbuildings before a rainy weather system moved in over the weekend.

No homes were destroyed in the fire, which was 80 percent contained by Monday, but the state’s dry winter has left brush and vegetation ready to burn - and sparked worry among firefighters and emergency preparedness officials.

Full containment was expected by Tuesday, said Tom Piranio, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Cal Fire.

Terry McHale, a spokesman for the union that represents state firefighters, said California was witnessing the worst start to a fire season in two decades.

Already, nearly 850 wildfires have flared up in California since January, considerably more than the average of 522 blazes that crop up during the first four months of the year, according to Cal Fire.

“The drought conditions and the fuel growth is something we’re seeing in May that you don’t usually see until July or August,” McHale said. “It is scary.”

Nationwide, the Forest Service said it was expecting a higher than normal incidence of significant fires in much of the West, including most of Arizona, New Mexico, California, Oregon and Idaho, as well as parts of Colorado, Utah and Washington.

On Monday, the agency said it was acquiring seven advanced firefighting air tankers to help modernize its aging fleet.

In Southern California, at the peak of the Springs Fire, several neighborhoods were evacuated, along with the campus of California State University Channel Islands.

The fire was tricky to contain, Piranio said. At first, dry conditions and powerful Santa Ana winds fueled the blaze and blew it toward the ocean.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Then, starting on Friday, opposing winds began to blow, bringing cooler weather and moisture, but also pushing the blaze back toward the community of Newbury Park and threatening homes there.

“As it burned down to the coast, the winds basically turned around and blew that fire back to the southeast,” Piranio said.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler

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