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California firefighters gain upper hand over major fires
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With the help of calmer winds and cooler temperatures, firefighters have made gains on three major fires that had ripped through parts of Southern California, authorities said on Monday.

Two of the blazes -- the Sayre fire in Sylmar of Los Angeles County and the Freeway Complex fire that originated in Orange County near Los Angeles -- are now 40-percent contained, while the Tea fire in Santa Monica, about 128 kilometers northwest of Los Angles, was 90-percent contained, authorities said.

The Sayre fire have scorched about 4,500 hectares and destroying hundreds of homes, including 608 mobile and modular homes at a mobile home park, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. At one point 10,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders.

Officials said six people were injured and no one has been found dead in the rubble so far.

The Sayre Fire started on Friday afternoon and its cause has not been determined.

Residents of the mobile home park, which was nearly flattened by fire, were allowed to return to their homes temporarily Monday morning to gather belongings and to view the damage.

Although a section of the blaze was still burning, fire officials said it was heading up a hill toward an area that has already burned, and they hope it would stall out there.

In Orange County, about 4,000 firefighters and strike team commanders awaiting orders to launch their final attack on the Freeway Complex fire, which has consumed a total of 11,700 hectares in Orange, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.

"The fire fight is over," fire information officer Marlene Heisey said.

"Yesterday it was like a freight train coming through. That intensity has ended."

Forecasters predicted more hot, dry conditions for Monday, but without the type of wind that whipped up flames through the weekend.

Authorities warned of poor air quality throughout the region on Monday, and classes have been canceled at some schools near fire zones in Orange County.

"The overall big picture is we're encouraged by the weather," said Ray Chaney, an incident commander from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, who was working on the Freeway Complex fire. But he wasn't ready to claim victory. "We're not going to let our guard down. We've got several days of hard, hard work."

In Santa Barbara, the fire that swept through Tony Montecito has burned 785 hectares was almost extinguished by Monday morning, authorities said.

The cause of all the fires were under investigation, although officials said the Santa Barbara-area was "human caused," said Doug Lannon, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Lannon said the fire started in a Montecito landmark known to be a popular hangout for teenagers. He said it was possible someone was smoking in the brush or started a campfire there. Investigators have set up an anonymous tip line in hopes of getting the public's help in finding out who started the fire.

(Xinhua News Agency November 18, 2008)

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