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Below-freezing temps help in fight against Sheep fire [Updated]

October 6, 2009 |  7:00 pm
Below-freezing temperatures in Southern California mountain areas helped fire crews Tuesday as they continued to make headway against a wildfire near Wrightwood in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Wrightwood recorded a low of 24 degrees Tuesday morning as more than 1,900 firefighters doused hot spots and cut firebreaks around the 7,128-acre Sheep fire, officials said. The high was about 56 degrees.

The break in the weather, including a significant drop in the winds, allowed officials to lift a mandatory evacuation order for Wrightwood. On Sunday, powerful winds had pushed the blaze across dry timber and chaparral to within about a quarter-mile of the mountaintop community. By Tuesday evening, the fire was 32% contained. [Updated at 8:41 p.m.: Officials now say the blaze is 75% contained and expect full containment by Saturday.]


“The cold temperatures have made it uncomfortable for firefighters, but it’s helped us contain the fire,” said Robin Prince, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.
Cooler temperatures, she said, increase the moisture level of the vegetation and help slow a fire’s spread.

As the region felt the effects of a low-pressure system, a record low of 25 degrees was recorded Tuesday at Lake Arrowhead. That shattered the previous record of 35 degrees set in 1994, according to the National Weather Service.

“Everybody in the area has been running about 10 to 15 degrees below normal, on the average,” said Tina Stall, a meteorologist with the Weather Service office in San Diego.

In Los Angeles County, a record low temperature of 32 degrees was set in Lancaster today, breaking a record of 34 degrees set in 1969.

On Monday, a record low of 53 degrees for the day was recorded at Los Angeles International Airport. That broke a record of 55, set in 1957, the weather service said.

The weather service said cooler temperatures would continue at least through Thursday before Southern California experiences a slight warm-up of a couple of degrees during the weekend.
Forest Service officials said crews battling the Sheep fire would continue to take advantage of the weather.

Ten helicopters and 10 fixed-wing aircraft were expected to resume air operations Wednesday while ground crews cut firebreaks in rugged terrain in the Lone Pine Canyon area. As of Tuesday evening, crews had to cut about 19 miles of line to encircle the wildfire, officials said.

 “There will still be areas that will be burning and smoldering over the next several days,” Prince said. “But things are looking good.”


-- Robert J. Lopez

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