Firefighters gain respite in battle with California wildfires

Firefighters gain respite in battle with California wildfires”

Instead of racing south out of the canyons and toward Highway 101 as it did the previous two nights, the blaze remained more inland Friday evening, boxed in by a steady bombardment of water and retardant drops from air tankers and helicopters, as well as ground attacks by almost 1,200 firefighters from across the state.

Existing mandatory evacuation orders and warnings remain in place.

However, the eastern side of the blaze was uncontrolled and virtually inaccessible.

Crews are relying on aircraft water drops and on cutting firebreaks ahead of the flames.

Firefighters have been able to reinforce holding lines around a New Mexico wildfire that has destroyed two dozen homes.

Highway 101 was open Friday morning after twice closing because of the fire, but forest officials warned drivers to be cautious as fire crews continued working along the road.

More than 1,200 firefighters attacked the California fire, which has engulfed almost 12 square miles of mountain and agricultural lands.

In east-central Arizona, progress was made against a 12-square-mile blaze that broke out Wednesday south of Show Low.

In New Mexico 24 homes and 21 other minor structures have been destroyed. That means there have been significantly more fires in a shorter period.

"It is ominous, and we are concerned because the fuels out there are drought-stressed", Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Eric Peterson told a news conference.

US Highway 60 remains closed as a stretch is along a containment line.

Lighter winds were helping firefighters battle the blaze in triple-digit temperatures.

Fire officials say 40-mph "sundowner" winds that usually sweep down the mountains near Santa Barbara didn't materialize Friday night.

Meanwhile, the heatwave arriving in the south-west on Sunday is expected to pose problems for people far beyond the fire lines.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District declared a local emergency and issued a smoke advisory for Los Angeles and Orange counties in effect through Saturday in response to the Santa Barbara County fire, with a warning that winds could push smoke from the blaze across the area. It has prompted mandatory evacuations of roughly 400 homes and ranches in the area, and authorities said 270 structures are threatened. "We want to help minimize potential losses from this challenging event".

The battle had a deadline because "sundowner" winds gusting to 50mph are expected to return and that could stir up the fire, he added.

Wildfires typically burn hardest during the heat of the day and then cool down at night.

Travelers are warned about road closures along the Manzano Mountains near Tajique, N.M., on Friday, June 17, 2016. The latest size estimate Friday morning is almost three times the previous acreage, with just 5 percent containment.

The so-called Sherpa Fire - one of several active wildfires burning in 10 states on Saturday - more than tripled in size Friday in Santa Barbara County, and by Saturday, and had scorched more than 7,640 acres, officials said. Stoked by winds, a wildfire burning west of Santa Barbara roared down mountain slopes toward the Pacific Oc.

A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop to help combat a wildfire near Santa Barbara, Calif., on Friday, June 17, 2016.

Firefighters from the Lompoc City Fire Department take shelter behind their engine Thursday, June 16, 2016, as wind driven flames advance from the Sherpa Fire.

The location of the "Sherpa Fire" burning in Santa Barbara County is seen in this Google Map.

Vehicles were stopped in northbound lanes on Highway 101 in front of El Capitan Canyon prior the freeway being closed on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

In Show Low, Arizona, the fire has reached almost reached 12,140 acres and prompted some evacuations in the area.

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