Winds pick up, humidity drops as firefighters battle blaze near Interstate 5 in California

Sunday, September 17th 2006, 7:02 am
By: News On 6

CASTAIC, Calif. (AP) _ Firefighters battled high winds and low humidity Saturday as they tried to keep a fire that has already scorched nearly 48 square miles of dry brush and timber from jumping a major highway and threatening homes.

The blaze, which broke out on Labor Day, was still only 30 percent contained, but authorities were confident Saturday they had established firebreaks that would keep it from jumping Interstate 5.

``I can tell you that the lines they put in, with the efforts they put in, over the last 24 to 36 hours they made significant progress on the southeast corner of the fire. We have the I-5 corridor secured,'' said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Larry Comerford.

Strong winds forecast for Sunday arrived a day earlier than expected and were gusting at more than 50 mph, Comerford said. The weather had been cool the two previous days but rose to the low 80s Saturday, while humidity, which had been high, dropped to 10 to 20 percent.

Highs on Sunday were expected to reach the mid-90s, with humidity dropping to 5 to 12 percent. But the winds were also expected to decline.

If the fire does jump Interstate 5, it could threaten homes in the rural Ventura County communities of Fillmore and Piru.

There were 1,731 firefighters battling the blaze, which has cost an estimated $12.9 million to fight so far.

The blaze, ignited by someone burning debris, has so far remained largely in the Los Padres National Forest on the border of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Meanwhile, in northern Minnesota, residents and tourists evacuated as fires threatened the Gunflint Trail, a road leading into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Authorities said 134 evacuees had checked in at a community center in Grand Marais on Friday, after a fire fueled by two days of high winds and dry timber appeared to threaten the trail.

The lightning-sparked fire was about 7 square miles on Saturday, authorities said. There are 106 private properties in the evacuation area.

And in Montana, officials said two wildfires that have destroyed several buildings and burned a total of almost 370 square miles haven't moved since a cold front rolled into the area late Thursday. They combined management of the fires.

The blaze that forced evacuation orders for about 325 homes and cabins on Wednesday was 40 percent contained, while the larger fire _ at about 325 square miles _ was 80 percent contained, officials said.

Likewise in Washington, cool weather helped slow the fires. A blaze that burned more than 3 square miles, or 7,871 acres, on the east shore of Lake Chelan was 50 percent contained.

``We're very rapidly scaling down here,'' spokeswoman Brett Ricker said. ``We're pulling crews out, pulling extra equipment off the line. Things are looking very good.''