LOS ANGELES (AP) _ People in the San Fernando Valley woke up Wednesday to brilliant blue skies mostly free of smoke and ash for the first time in four days.
Gone were the convulsive winds that at times reached gale force. Nowhere could police be found using bullhorns to order residents out of homes and away from deadly fires that blackened more than 18,000 acres, destroyed nearly 50 homes and killed one man.
A freeway traffic death also was blamed on the fires.
Winds that pummeled Southern California were slack, leaving in their wake a return to scorching temperatures. Some people who lost homes in the blazes returned to shovel through the ashes.
Not all the flames were out, however. Televised news reports showed a man using a hose to douse a hot spot at the edge of his patio.
In Point Mugu in Ventura County, about 50 miles from the San Fernando Valley fires, a 10-acre blaze erupted, closing Pacific Coast Highway, but no homes were threatened. The fire was burning up steep, brushy La Jolla Canyon onto rocky ridges overlooking the ocean.
About 100 firefighters and some water-dropping aircraft were called in.
County fire Capt. John Alford said there wasn’t much wind and the fire was moving at a moderate pace.
Despite the calm winds, the National Weather Service extended a red flag warning of risky fire conditions from Wednesday evening through Friday because of low humidity.
The warning was for mountain, forest and valley areas of Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
Crews in the San Fernando Valley doused hot spots and planned more air attacks on a 13,285-acre blaze near Porter Ranch that was only 20 percent contained.
Winds were not expected to blow more than 15 mph in the area Wednesday morning, though temperatures in the 90s were predicted later in the day and humidity remained very low, the National Weather Service said.
For some residents in the valley’s northwestern suburbs, the flames seemed more of a curiosity than a danger. One man spent Tuesday night on the trunk of his car outside his home and watched firefighters battle a blaze that had burned down nearby slopes.
In another neighborhood in Simi Valley, Gabriel Viola and Gheith Effarah readied important valuables and documents just in case they had to flee, but neither seemed worried about the fire spreading.
‘You don’t want to be completely dumb,’ Effarah said. ‘I’ve been living here eight years and this is the third time we’ve gone through this. The firefighters seem to be on the ball. It calms you down.’
Fifteen homes and 47 outbuildings were destroyed in the Porter Ranch area, and another six homes were damaged, said Los Angeles County fire Inspector Ron Haralson. Evacuation orders for several neighborhoods, including large parts of Porter Ranch, were lifted Tuesday night, but he warned that the situation could quickly change with the wind.
Ten miles away, there was major progress against Los Angeles’ other big wildfire. A 4,824-acre fire in the northeastern San Fernando Valley was 80 percent contained and some evacuees were allowed to go home.
But people who lived in an area where 38 mobile homes were destroyed were not permitted to return.
Teresa Escamilla, 47, laid on a cot in a Red Cross shelter, thinking the worst. She believed she lost everything, including a shoebox containing five years of savings.
‘It feels like it’s not real,’ the nursing assistant said in Spanish.
Some residents managed to sneak into the Sky Terrace Lodge mobile home park, where some streets were a total loss ‘mdash; homes reduced to lumps of melted plastic and buckled wood.
Darlene and Ken Rede’s home survived, but the house next door was gone. On their porch, a weather gauge was melted while a roll of paper towels hanging below it was untouched.
‘Why did we get spared?’ said Darlene Rede. ‘I feel so bad for the people, my emotions are running crazy.’
Lisa Torell, 52, a 13-year resident, recounted fleeing as palm trees exploded into flames. She said she wrapped a sweater around her head as burning embers spat from the sky.
‘It was like a nightmare ‘mdash; an earthquake and a hurricane all at once,’ she said.
Torell found her home intact. The top of a plum tree was singed but her banana plants were untouched and hummingbirds drank from feeders hanging from her porch.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa acknowledged the uncertainty facing residents of the fire areas.
‘Many still don’t know when they are going to return home,’ he said. ‘Our hearts and prayers are out with all of them.’
On the north coast of San Diego County, a 3,950-acre fire at the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton was 75 percent contained. Most evacuation orders were lifted for residents of about 1,500 homes in neighboring Oceanside and for many Marine Corps personnel and family members in military housing, but some remained in emergency shelters.
A separate small fire closed Interstate 5 through the base for two hours Tuesday before it was controlled.
In eastern San Diego County along the U.S.-Mexico border, a fire burned 200 acres and forced residents from 300 homes in the community of Campo before it was contained Tuesday night.
In the inland region 60 miles east of Los Angeles, a fire in the Little Mountain area of San Bernardino was contained at 100 acres.
The outbreak of fires followed the weekend arrival of the first significant Santa Ana winds of the fall.
The notorious Santa Anas usually sweep in between October and February as cold, dry air descending over the Great Basin flows toward Southern California and squeezes through mountain passes and canyons.