Firefighters on Friday reported significant progress in containing wildfire in the coastal mountains of southern California.
The Alisal Fire in the Santa Ynez Mountains west of Santa Barbara grew only marginally to 26.4 square miles since Thursday morning, and fire containment increased to 41%, up from 5% 24 hours earlier.
The improved situation enabled authorities to reopen US 101, the region’s main freeway, and a railway line that runs alongside the freeway on Thursday evening. They were closed since Monday.
In their first damage report, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department said that of more than 400 buildings at risk of fire, three homes and two outbuildings were destroyed.
The fire broke out on Monday afternoon in heavy winds and quickly spread over the mountain range, skipping the highway and railroad to the beach below.
Since then, the weather has improved a lot for firefighting, allowing planes and helicopters to bombard the fire with flame retardant and water. The fire brigade ground force has grown to more than 1,700 firefighters.
Elsewhere in California, gusty winds and low humidity triggered extreme fire hazard warnings in many adjacent counties of Ventura and Los Angeles, but the rest of the state was devoid of critical fire hazard warnings.
Some rain and snow were expected in Northern California on Sunday, and long-term forecasts from the National Weather Service suggested a possible pattern of increased rainfall that would help reduce the risk of forest fires.
California forest fires burned nearly 3,900 square miles (10,101 square kilometers) and destroyed more than 3,600 homes, businesses, and other buildings this year, according to the state Department of Forestry and Fire Safety.
A historic drought in the American West linked to climate change makes fighting forest fires difficult. Millions of trees have been killed in California alone. Scientists say climate change has made the west much warmer and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and make forest fires more frequent and destructive.