Calmer Winds Help Battle of California Fires; Arson Involved?

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- Winds have eased in Southern California giving fire crews a chance to fight back against some blazes.

On Wednesday, winds top winds speeds dropped to about 36 miles-per-hour, considerably less than the fierce 100 mile-per-hour gusts that whipped fire zones earlier in the week. The improving weather allowed for a greater aerial assault on the flames. Helicopters and air tankers dropped 30 to 35 loads of water on two fires in the San Bernardino Mountains. A U.S. Forest Service official says, "They're taking it down considerably."

By nightfall, firefighters had fully contained the three major fires in Los Angeles County and largely contained many of the fires north of San Diego. A fire in San Bernardino County continues to rage out of control.

This week's fires have destroyed about 1,500 homes and burned 682 square miles across five counties. State emergency official say 28,000 homes are still at risk.

Federal agents and local authorities are investigating the possibility that some of the wildfires devastating Southern California may have been deliberately set.

At least 2 of the fires -- in Orange and Riverside counties -- have been linked to arson.

The FBI has joined the search for evidence in brush-covered Orange County hills. Experts say the fire apparently had three ignition points. A $70,000 reward has been posted.

In San Bernardino County, a man suspected of starting a small fire was arrested and another man was shot to death by police after he fled officers who approached to see if he might be trying to set a fire.

The fires have destroyed about 1,500 homes and caused more than a half-million people to flee since the first blaze began late Saturday.

Authorities say patrols have been increased to in hopes of preventing copycat fires and looting.

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