LOS ANGELES - Cooler weather gave a boost yesterday to crews battling the enormous wildfire that was threatening nearly 2,700 homes in Santa Barbara County.
The four-day-old fire in the Los Padres National Forest, which had blackened about 13 square miles, spread slightly during the night but firefighting crews were able to keep up with it, county spokeswoman Vickie Guthrie said.
The fire near the town of Goleta was about 30 percent contained. With lower wind and higher humidity, crews were optimistic that they could get more acreage under control. Temperatures were in the upper 70s.
Wildfires have charred more than 800 square miles of forest, brush, and grass and have destroyed at least 69 homes throughout California, mainly in the northern part of the state, in the past two weeks. One firefighter died of a heart attack.
According to state forestry officials, at one time there were more than 1,700 active fires, but about 1,400 had been contained, leaving more than 330 raging yesterday.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who on Saturday visited a command post in the coastal region of Santa Barbara County, has ordered 400 National Guard troops trained to help fight the blazes. He also urged lawmakers to adopt his budget plan for a $70 million emergency surcharge on home and business insurance policies to buy more firefighting equipment.
Nearly 2,700 homes in Santa Barbara County remained under mandatory evacuation orders yesterday and residents of 1,400 others were warned to be ready to flee.
The Los Padres fire, fueled by 15-foot-high, half-century-old chaparral, still had the potential to roll through a hilly area of ranches, housing tracts, and orchards between the town of Goleta and Santa Barbara, keeping firefighters on their toes.
Nearly 1,200 firefighters were assisted by a DC-10 air tanker and other aircraft dumping water and fire retardant along ridges and in steep canyons.
Investigators think the fire, which began Tuesday, was started by a person. The US Forest Service asked for public help Saturday in determining how it was started.
Meanwhile, cooler weather helped crews attacking the two-week-old blaze that has destroyed 22 homes in Big Sur, at the northern end of the Los Padres forest, but the fire continued to grow slowly.
The fire, which had blackened 111 square miles, was only 5 percent contained, with full containment not expected until the end of the month. Morning fog that moved in from the sea helped prevent the blaze from advancing on Big Sur's famed restaurants and hotels.
"We're gaining ground, but we're nowhere near being done," said Gregg DeNitto, a spokesman for the US Forest Service. "There's still a lot of potential out there. The fire has been less active the last couple of days. We've had favorable weather; they are taking every opportunity to get some line on it."
The weather was expected to become hotter and drier over the next couple of days, he said.
"The fire still has the potential for movement and the potential to get out of our containment lines," he said.