LOCKWOOD VALLEY, Calif. - Firefighters battling a massive Southern California wildfire for nearly a month made considerable gains Thursday thanks to favorable winds, and officials project to have the blaze contained by early next week.
Evacuations that had been urged for several mountain communities have been downgraded to precautionary, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Bee Dechert.
The blaze was 63 percent contained after burning 160,570 acres, or nearly 250 square miles, of wilderness northwest of Los Angeles since Labor Day.
"We're pretty optimistic. We're getting some lines around the fire. It's starting to look pretty good," said Ventura County fire Battalion Chief Bryan Vanden Bossche. "This is one of the days we've had the least amount of (fire) activity."
The National Weather Service predicted low humidity during afternoon hours through Friday. That could dry out brush and make it easier for the fire - the fifth-largest wildfire in recorded state history - to make an explosive advance.
"The line will be tested," said Melody Fountain of the U.S. Forest Service.
Winds were light but erratic Thursday and lookouts were posted to warn crews in case the fire suddenly changed direction. "It's extremely dangerous for them to be in there," said Ventura County fire Capt. Barry Parker.
Dozens of fire engines continued to guard homes in the mountain communities.
More than 4,500 firefighters, aided by aircraft, were fighting the blaze, which was burning at elevations up to about 6,000 feet up in the mountains.
The fire has destroyed two barns, two outbuildings, three trailers, an unoccupied cabin and five vehicles.
Firefighting costs have topped $53 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized the use of federal funds to cover some expenses.