Calif. Wildfire Grows but Crews Hopeful of Saving Thousands of Homes

While a ferocious, wind-driven wildfire grew along the California coast northwest of Los Angeles, firefighters were hopeful early Saturday that an expected weekend change in the weather will likely help them keep the inferno away from 4,000 homes and a military base.

Homes in Ventura County and Glendale were spared from the fire on Friday as firefighters fought against the flames, according to the Los Angeles Times. More firefighters were expected to arrive and it was being hoped that diminishing winds and higher humidity would help them make headway on Saturday.

Firefighters are expected to take until next Monday to fully contain the blaze, which sent a pall of thick smoke drifting over the beach community of Malibu and farther inland across Los Angeles County, according to Reuters.

The wind-whipped fire, which erupted Thursday in the Camarillo area and had roared across 43 square miles, damaged 15 structures in the area 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, and threatened other homes in a wooded area, The Associated Press reported.

Residents were grateful so many homes were spared. "It came pretty close. All of these houses – these firemen did a tremendous job. Very, very thankful for them," resident Shayne Poindexter was quoted as saying. Flames came within 30 feet of the house he was building.

Some 900 firefighters using engines, aircraft, bulldozers and other equipment had it just 20 percent contained until late Friday. Since daybreak, the fire had nearly tripled in size.

"That's the way this fire has behaved, it has been a very fast-moving, feisty fire," Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Bill Nash was quoted as saying.

To the north of the fire, parts of the Newbury Park community of Thousand Oaks were under mandatory and voluntary evacuations.

The weather over the next few days generally offers good news.

"Hot, dry, strong offshore winds will transition to cooler, more humid onshore winds this weekend," Senior Meteorologist Jon Erdman said. "Then, an upper-level low will swirl near the California coast by Sunday, bringing a chance of showers to parts of the state."

However, the rain might bring some bad news. "Any rainfall in California is expected to be scattered and light. In fact, some thundershowers may not produce any rain at all, rather lightning strikes and shifting winds – two dangerous ingredients for ongoing fires and potential for more fire starts," Erdman said. "This 'dry thunderstorm threat' then spreads into parts of Arizona and New Mexico by Monday."

Federal funding was made available to cover 75 percent of firefighting costs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced.

The fire reinforced predictions that California is in for a bad summer fire season because the dry winter and spring weather have left brush tinder-dry.