A lull in the fierce, desert-born Santa Ana winds that pushed three devastating wildfires through Southern California delivered the first major break in days to fire crews from Anaheim Hills to Santa Barbara on Sunday, although authorities warned that shifting winds could splinter off erratic blazes and threaten homes for at least another day.
The gravest threat late Sunday was along the border of Orange, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties, as the fire charged toward the canyons and hillsides of Diamond Bar, Chino Hills and Brea.
Yorba Linda and Anaheim Hills. Firefighters spent day and night Sunday beating back the fire's northern march along the 57 Freeway and its stubborn hold on Tonner Canyon north of Brea.
Forecasters predicted more hot, dry weather for today, but without the type of wind that whipped up flames through the weekend. Authorities warned of poor air quality throughout the region today, and classes have been canceled at some schools near fire zones in Orange County.
"The overall big picture is we're encouraged by the weather," said Ray Chaney, an incident commander from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection who was working on the Freeway Complex fire. But he wasn't ready to claim victory. "We're not going to let our guard down. We've got several days of hard, hard work."
In fire areas throughout the region Sunday, residents not under mandatory evacuation waited and watched. In Diamond Bar, the Delgado family was packed up and watching aircraft drop loads of fire retardant onto the flames below.
"It looks far away, but then the wind shifts and it gets closer," said Julie Delgado, who has lived in the community 19 years. "If I see it coming, I will water the eaves then go to my sister's house."
Up the hill at the exclusive Country gated community, an evacuation order was issued after flames got dangerously close to hilltop mansions. Among those who left was rapper Snoop Dogg, who headed out in a caravan that included caged dogs, according to neighbors.
Nerves were much calmer for most people living near the region's two other major blazes.
The Sayre fire near Sylmar was 40% contained Sunday evening, although firefighters had to scramble to battle an afternoon flare-up in Placerita Canyon near Santa Clarita.
By Sunday night, the blaze had destroyed more than 510 homes. A total of 10,000 acres had burned, and at one point 10,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders. Five firefighters and one civilian suffered injuries, authorities said.
Fire officials in Santa Barbara County lifted evacuation orders Sunday at 3:30 p.m. for all but 260 homes involved in the Tea fire, which began in Montecito at sundown Thursday and destroyed 210 residences and burned 1,940 acres.
"It's not expanding," said William Boyer, communications director for Santa Barbara County. "There are still some hot spots, but there's a very optimistic outlook at this point."
Containment was at 80% as of late Sunday.
After igniting near the Santa Ana River in Corona on Saturday, the Freeway Complex fire snaked along the edges of Chino Hills State Park, a 13,000-acre refuge from development that serves as a natural wildlife corridor.
Mary Anzueto, 54, waited at her Anaheim Hills apartment late Saturday night for an evacuation order that never came. When she saw flames beginning to burn brush 20 feet from the wooden balcony of her second-story apartment, she knew it was time to go.
"I had to high-tail it out with the baby and the Chihuahua," the grandmother said, referring to her 4-year-old grandson Matthew and the family pet.
When Anzueto was allowed back into the area on Sunday, she found that dozens of apartments in the 285-unit complex had been destroyed. From her balcony, she could see foliage 10 feet away that had burned. But her apartment was untouched.
"Last night I cried out in grief, but today I cried tears of joy," Anzueto said.
Winds relent, but fires persist
Santa Anas subside and humidity rises at three major blazes in Southern California. Agencies line up aid for displaced families, and most schools plan to open Monday.
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