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Firefighters work to contain Southern Califonia wildfires

LAKE ARROWHEAD, Calif. — Crews worked to contain the wildfires that still burned in Southern California Sunday as warmer, drier air replaced the moist weather that had earlier allowed firefighters to make strong gains.

The cloudy system that brought rain to some areas was moving out of the region, and wind up to 15 mph was expected.

"Nothing like we were seeing at the beginning of the week," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "This is fire conditions that we can actively fight, unlike the Santa Ana winds."

But there was a possibility of strong offshore winds in another seven days, he said.

It was the onset of the seasonal Santa Anas — fierce, dry wind blowing from the desert and out to sea — that spread fires across more than 500,000 acres during the week, chasing people from communities as homes burned.

As of Sunday, the state Office of Emergency Services tallied 2,767 structures destroyed. OES spokeswoman Kim Oliver said the number included 2,013 homes.

With more than a dozen fires fully surrounded, firefighters were pushing to complete lines around seven others. Containment of those blazes ranged from 50 percent to 97 percent.

Although fire continued to burn in the Lake Arrowhead region 100 miles east of Los Angeles, an evacuation order for much of the area was lifted Sunday.

Another big fire in the interior of Orange County, southeast of Los Angeles, was half surrounded. A blaze 60 miles northeast of San Diego stopped its advance toward the mountain town of Julian.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Saturday visited a command post near Orange County's Santiago Canyon fire to announce assistance for people with losses, warn of contracting scams, and pledge to find whoever set the nearby blaze that continued to threaten homes after destroying 14.

Addressing controversy over state rules that caused delay in getting military aircraft into use against the fires, Schwarzenegger said it sometimes takes disaster "to really wake everyone up."

"There are things that we could improve on and I think this is what we are going to do because a disaster like this ... in the end is a good vehicle, a motivator for everyone to come together," he said.

Seven deaths have been directly attributed to the fires, including those of four suspected illegal immigrants, whose burned bodies were found near the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday.

Eleven Mexicans were being treated at a San Diego hospital for burns suffered in the wildfires after crossing the border illegally, the Mexican government confirmed Saturday. Four were in critical condition.

About 4,400 people remained in 28 shelter sites in Southern California, while others waited out the fires in makeshift encampments.

In the Rancho Bernardo section of San Diego, mortgage broker Mike Bartholemew, 37, removed rotten food from his refrigerator Saturday as he waited for cleaners to vacuum soot from inside his home, which survived the flames.

Bartholemew said it was eerie to be surrounded by ruined homes but he was anxious to come back home as soon as electricity was restored.

"I could move to Indiana, but they have tornados and floods," he said. "Everywhere you go in the country you get something. Here we have earthquakes and fires."


Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego, Aaron C. Davis in Orange and Jacob Adelman in Los Angeles contributed to this report.