Camarillo, CA -- A favorable weather shift bringing cooler temperatures and damp air from the Pacific Ocean continued Sunday, aiding firefighters in their battle against a raging Southern California wildfire.
The 43-square-mile blaze at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains was 56% contained as of Sunday morning. The progress made led authorities to lift evacuation orders for residences in several areas.
There was more good news Sunday as the National Weather Service said an approaching low pressure system would bring a 20% chance of showers in the afternoon, with the likelihood increasing into the night and on Monday.
Nearly 2,000 fire personnel used 247 engines, 11 helicopters, six air tankers and other equipment to battle the fire that started Thursday about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
As of Saturday afternoon, firefighters "were making good progress," said Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Bill Nash. "We're gaining an upper hand on it and we're cautiously optimistic."
When the blaze began, the temperature was in the 90s, and humidity was 1%, says Nash. But cooling temperatures and rising humidity allowed firefighters "to make some headway."
Capt. Mike Lindbery of the Ventura County Fire Department said that crews intended to take advantage of lower temperatures and higher humidity.
"That will give us a chance because it's going to really bring that fire activity down quite a bit," he said. "I think we will make some significant progress."
On Saturday, Nash said he expected the fire to be fully contained by Monday, and possibly earlier, if the cooler weather and rising humidity continued.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. "We really want to find out what caused this," Nash said. "If it was criminal activity or negligence, there may be an opportunity for cost recovery."
The type of blaze that hit the area usually doesn't strike Southern California wild land until September or October, after the summer has dried out hillside vegetation. But the state has seen a severe drought during the past year, with the water content of California's snowpack only 17% of normal.
The blaze is one of more than 680 wildfires in the state so far this year - about 200 more than average.
"What we're experiencing across California, including in Ventura, is incredibly dry conditions," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "Fires are burning a lot faster and a lot more intensely than they would in a normal May."
And the potential for more wildfires is only going to increase in the coming months.
"Unfortunately, as we move into the summer months it's only going to get drier," he said.