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California Firefighters Gain Upper Hand Despite High Winds

<p>Firefighters have begun to the gain upper hand on blaze that blackened more than 1,700 acres outside Los Angeles.</p>

Firefighters made progress Friday against a wildfire — apparently sparked when paper was tossed into a campfire — that tore through two and a half square miles of brush and forced thousands of people from their homes in the foothills outside Los Angeles.

Fire officials told reporters that the fire was 30 percent contained, an improvement from completely uncontained the day before. People were allowed back into their homes in the city of Glendora and in some neighborhoods that had been evacuated in the neighboring city of Azusa.

Crews expressed confidence and said they were focused on putting out “hot spots” near homes and buildings.

“Things are progressing nicely. We're not really having a lot of issues today,” said Mike Wakoski, an incident commander. “It's looking pretty good around the structures, and we're kind of turning our head to the north to contain the fire itself today.”

The fire has destroyed five homes and damaged 17 structures, including homes, garages and other buildings, and it has cast an eerie haze over Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean. Battling the blaze on Friday were almost 1,200 firefighters, 150 engines, nine helicopters and four air tankers.

By Thursday afternoon, firefighters had stopped the fire's rapid advance and the risk to neighboring communities. More than 3,700 people had been ordered to evacuate; by Friday afternoon, that figure was down to about 1,000.

Wind still posed a threat: The National Weather Service said red-flag warnings, signifying extreme fire danger, would stay in effect because of low humidity and the possibility that Santa Ana winds would blow through the foothills and canyons.

Police said the fire apparently started before dawn Thursday when three men tossed papers into a campfire in the Angeles National Forest, northeast of Los Angeles, and a breeze kicked up.

Three men were being held: Clifford Eugene Henry Jr., 22, of Glendora; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, of Los Angeles. Bail was set at $20,000 for each, police said.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Image: California wild fire
U.S. Forestry Service fire crews conduct a burnout operation as flames near homes in Azusa, Calif., on Thursday. Over 1,200 firefighters, air tankers, helicopters and bulldozers are working to contain the fire which grew to over 1,700 acres.STUART PALLEY / EPA