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Calif. fires may be at turning point

Breaking Earth News
California, USA
A firefighter sprays water in a torrent of hot ambers blown back at him and his team by the wind as they try unsuccessfully to prevent flames from the Harris Fire from crossing the road in Jamul, in California's San Diego county. Fires raged across California for a fourth day Wednesday as officials confirmed three people had died and property worth one billion dollars had been destroyed across the disaster zone.(AFP/Robyn Beck)

SAN DIEGO - A massive aerial assault and a break in harsh winds helped firefighters make their first major progress against Southern California's firestorm, raising evacuees' hopes of returning home for good. But flames were still drawing perilously toward thousands of homes.

The hot, dry Santa Ana winds that have whipped the blazes into a destructive, indiscriminate fury since the weekend were expected to all but disappear Thursday.

"That will certainly aid in firefighting efforts," National Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Meier said.

The record high temperatures of recent days began succumbing to cooling sea breezes, and two fires that burned 21 homes in northern Los Angeles County were fully contained.

President Bush, who has declared a major disaster in a seven-county region, was scheduled to arrive in California Thursday and to take an aerial tour of the burn areas, accompanied by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Losses total at least $1 billion in San Diego County alone, and include a third of the state's avocado crop. The losses are half as high as those in Southern California's 2003 fires, but are certain to rise.

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