updated 5/7/2004 9:47:27 PM ET 2004-05-08T01:47:27

Firefighters on Friday finished surrounding the largest of the blazes that charred nearly 29,000 acres of Southern California brushlands and forest and signaled an ominous start to this year’s fire season.

Evacuation orders were lifted for residents near two destructive blazes in Riverside County that burned more than 25,000 acres and damaged or destroyed dozens of structures in the inland region east of Los Angeles.

The fires were declared fully contained Friday morning after cooler temperatures provided a measure of relief.

“Morale was boosted when the cooler weather came in, absolutely,” said Jim Boano of the California Department of Forestry. “This early in the season, it’s always nice to have any help we can get because it’s going to be a long season.”

Last year’s season lasted until February, and catastrophic wildfires destroyed thousands of homes. This week’s fires erupted as officials declared the wildfire season three weeks early because of dry weather and a tree-killing bark beetle infestation that has ravaged some forests.

In Riverside County, the two big fires that were contained were the nearly 16,500-acre Cerrito Fire between Corona and Lake Elsinore and the 8,900-acre Eagle Fire south of Temecula. Together, they destroyed 28 residences and 37 other structures. The 2,050-acre India Fire on the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton in neighboring San Diego County also was contained.

Firefighters made headway on a fire burning in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles, in Los Padres National Forest. The 1,127-acre Cachuma Fire was 80 percent contained.

“It’s all about the weather,” said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Ed Linquist. “The weather played into our hands, and the people on the ground took full advantage of it.”

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