Firefighters gain more control over Southern California blaze

LOS ANGELES - Crews working to contain a massive wildfire in Southern California on Saturday were hoping cooler weather and possible rain showers would help them gain the upper hand against a blaze that has forced the evacuation of 5,600 residents.

The so-called Mountain Fire was 25 per cent contained on Saturday, up from 15 per cent the day before, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

The fire has burned across more than 27,000 acres of dry brush and timber and destroyed seven residences since it broke out on Monday.

The flames have forced the evacuation of the town of Idyllwild, a community about a mile above sea level known for its hiking trails, rock climbing and arts and music scene, and also forced out residents from the nearby community of Fern Valley.

A total of 3,478 firefighters were working to control the blaze, according to Cal Fire. Ten air tankers and 20 helicopters were also deployed against it.

Rain was falling in the region about 90 km east of Los Angeles on Saturday and firefighters were hopeful it would fall in the burn areas, said Norma Bailey, a spokeswoman for the multiple agencies handling the fire.

But thunder and lightning accompanied the same change in weather that brought the rain and firefighters were concerned about the possibility for erratic winds, Bailey said. Wind speeds of up to 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) with gusts of 15 mph (24 km/h) have been predicted.

Residents of Idyllwild and Fern Valley have been out of their homes since evacuations were ordered on Wednesday.

A few hundred people have been allowed to return home in neighbouring areas where the threat of flames has decreased, Bailey said.