Cooler Weather May Help Battle Southern California Wildfires

A cold front that's bringing cool temperatures and rain showers to Southern California is welcome news to firefighters who are working to contain the Springs Fire in Ventura County west of Los Angeles. The blaze is one of a half dozen large fires burning in parched California, where the wildfire season is off to an unusually early start.

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Cool temperatures and rain showers are welcome news in Southern California as firefighters are working to contain a huge wildfire burning through its coastal mountains. The 28,000 acre Springs Fire started Thursday and is still burning in Ventura County just west of Los Angeles. Firefighters hope to have the fire fully contained today, but the blaze is one of a half-dozen large fires burning in California where the wildfire season is off to an unusually early start. NPR's Kirk Siegler has this update.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The Springs Fire ignited early Thursday morning along the side of a busy freeway and was quickly fueled by erratic winds which fanned the flames through tinder dry brush in the rugged canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains. The blaze cut a path of more than 10 miles to the Pacific Ocean and thousands of people were evacuated as the fire burned dangerously close to numerous homes and other structures.

Yet, despite the bad weather and poor visibility, crews were able to begin containing this fire early on. Ventura County fire captain Scott Dettore told CBS News much of that is owed to mitigation work over the past few years in that area where 100 foot buffers or clearings are required between the wild land and homes and businesses.

SCOTT DETTORE: We were still able to rally all these troops, assemble all these fire forces within a very short period of time and protect over 4,000 homes. And as I understand, we still have not lost one.

SIEGLER: But fire officials say there has been damage to some homes and commercial properties. About 4,000 firefighters from around California and other Western states have mobilized to fight the state's largest blazes. The Southern California's Mediterranean-like climate means that wildfires are a fact of life, but blazes this big don't usually start this early, a testament to how dry it is.

Ventura County fire's Tom Kruschke says the Springs Fire burned as intense as blazes usually due at the height of California's fire season.

TOM KRUSCHKE: End of September, early October would normally be the height of our fire season. This is just the beginning of May so this does not look good for the rest of the year.

SIEGLER: Even before the largest blazes sparked last week, though, the state's lead fire fighting agency Cal Fire had been warning that severely dry conditions had heightened wildfire danger. Snow pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is at extremely low levels and most of the valleys received just a fraction of the rainfall that they usually depend on in the winter.

Cal Fire's annual wildfire preparedness week and PSA campaign kicked off yesterday, carrying a little more urgency and significance this go-around.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And it's your responsibility to prepare yourself, your family and your home. And that preparation starts with three simple steps: ready, set, go.

SIEGLER: While California is currently bearing the brunt of the first major wildfires this season, forecasters are warning that may not be the case for long. The latest forecast of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise warns of higher than normal wildfire danger for May across Arizona and New Mexico, as well as some parts of Idaho and Montana. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

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