Calmer winds, cool breezes, aircraft help crews slow growth of huge wildfire near Ojai, Calif.

Monday, September 25th 2006, 5:28 am
By: News On 6

OJAI, Calif. (AP) _ Cooler weather helped firefighters who were slowly encircling one of the largest, longest-burning wildfires in recent state history on Monday as dying Santa Ana winds were replaced by cooler ocean breezes.

The hot winds from the northeast were down from 40 mph to 10 mph and were colliding with an onshore flow coming up from the south.

Flames that had grown more active over the weekend were ``pretty much lazy,'' said Larry Comerford of the U.S. Forest Service. ``We're slowly gaining the upper hand.''

The fire in Los Padres National Forest had burned about 134,000 acres, or nearly 210 square miles, since Labor Day. It was 41 percent contained.

The fire has crept toward the town of Ojai, an artists' enclave popular with tourists, but by Monday a call for voluntary evacuations of 300 homes and a college east of the city was called off. No homes were in immediate danger, although residents of Ojai and other towns within 10 miles of the fire were told to stay alert.

Officials said a DC-10 jet that dumped 48,000 gallons of fire retardant Sunday helped knock back the edge of the fire. Twenty-five smaller aircraft were being used Monday to fight the blaze.

``If something major happens, it would really be an act of God because this area has just been covered so completely by the fire service. It's pretty hard to think too much is going to happen,'' Mike Gram, 54, said Sunday during a stop at an Ojai grocery store.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Sunday for Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles. The move clears the way for assistance from the governor's emergency services office and state funds for rebuilding and recovery.

The fire has cost $36.7 million to fight, with that figure increasing about $1 million a day.