California crews tame fires as winds ebb

Nearly 5000 Californian firefighters are still battling 22 wildfires.
Nearly 5000 Californian firefighters are still battling 22 wildfires.

Weakening winds have enabled firefighters in southern California to begin to corral two raging wildfires that critically injured two frontline crew and had threatened tens of thousands of homes.

Authorities on Wednesday reported significant progress in setting up containment lines around the two Orange County blazes, the latest eruptions in a year in which the state's hills, valleys and forests have been scorched north to south.

With crews of more than 1300 fighting the two blazes, the Orange County Fire Authority said containment of the Silverado fire had widened to 25 per cent from 5 per cent on Tuesday, after it tore through 5400 hectares.

"The most important thing is we've had zero homes lost," OCFA Captain Ben Gonzalez said, crediting fire crews for keeping flames away from residences.

Two firefighters critically injured with second- and third-degree burns when the fire erupted on Monday, were still hospitalised on Wednesday, an OCFA spokesman said.

After ordering more than 100,000 county residents from their homes on Tuesday, officials lifted most evacuation orders by Wednesday afternoon, including those for the city of Irvine in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains south of Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the Blue Ridge fire near Yorba Linda, which destroyed one structure and damaged seven others, was 16 per cent contained by early Wednesday after not being contained at all on Tuesday and blackening 5800 hectares, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

Winds have steadily slowed since the outbreak of the blazes, prompting the National Weather Service to downgrade its fire threat risk to moderate on Wednesday and minor for the rest of the week.

"With favourable weather, fire crews will find opportunities to establish more control lines," CalFire said.

Across the state, nearly 5000 crew members were still battling 22 wildfires on Wednesday and had contained 23 new ones, it said.

Wildfires this year have ravaged California, scorching more than 16,500 square km, with 31 lives lost and thousands of homes destroyed.

Australian Associated Press