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Firefighters making headway in California wildfires

August 17, 2009 |  5:14 pm

More than 4,100 firefighters appear to be gaining the upper hand this evening in their efforts to battle two major California wildfires that have been burning out of control.

Authorities say the Lockheed fire in Santa Cruz County is 65% contained and the La Brea fire in Santa Barbara County is 75% contained.

In the Lockheed blaze, fire crews are having success cutting fire breaks and beating back flames amid cooler temperatures and a drop in the winds, authorities say.

"They're making good progress," said Nadim Yehia of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

If weather conditions remain favorable, he said, fire crews are expected to have full containment within several days.

More than 2,100 firefighters and 14 water-dropping helicopters are trying to control the fire that has burned thick redwood groves near the Santa Cruz County town of Swanton. The blaze, which started Wednesday, has consumed 7,017 acres.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, authorities said.

In Santa Barbara County, meanwhile, 2,078 firefighters are battling the fire that has scorched 87,490 acres of fast-burning chaparral, grass and timber in rugged terrain in Los Padres Forest near Santa Maria. The ground crews are being aided by 59 helicopters and 12 fixed-wing aircraft, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Authorities say the blaze, which has been burning since Aug. 8, was started by a cooking fire at a camp operated by a Mexican criminal organization that grows marijuana in the forest.

-- Robert J. Lopez

Photo: A huge air tanker makes a water drop on the La Brea fire. Credit: Bill Loucks / U.S. Forest Service