SoCal Wildfire Mostly Contained

An airplane drops flame retardant on a slope Sunday, April 27, 2008, in Sierra Madre, Calif.
AP Photo/Ric Francis
Lower temperatures and increased manpower on Tuesday allowed firefighters to tame much of a three-day-old wildfire that had gotten perilously close to dozens of homes and led hundreds of people to evacuate.

The fire in the rugged San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles was 57 percent contained early Tuesday after covering 538 acres, or less than a square mile.

Most of the more than 1,000 people evacuated from their homes had been allowed to return and public schools in the Sierra Madre community of about 11,000 residents were reopening Tuesday.

A cool front moved into the area after three days of high temperatures.

The cause of the blaze, which broke Saturday, remained under investigation.

Elsewhere, crews in central New Mexico had declared 95 percent containment on a blaze that has burned nine weekend or summer homes and several outbuildings. The fire blackened 4,832 acres, or 7.5 square miles.

Crews overcame a threatening flare-up in California Sunday night and worked Monday to halt a wildfire northeast of Los Angeles that sent 1,000 people fleeing their homes.

Water-dropping aircraft were in the air Monday to complement ground crews as more than 580 firefighters attacked the blaze above homes in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Calmer wind and rising humidity helped contain the fire on Tuesday, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Ed Gililland.

Fire crews battling a wildfire had a close call early Monday when winds unexpectedly kicked up and sent flames within yards of several houses, reports CBS affiliate KCBS. Firefighters watered down embers that drifted onto a few roofs and fought back the blaze. Authorities said no homes have burned since the fire began Saturday.

The blaze had charred 490 acres Monday, authorities said. Containment had fallen from 30 percent to 23 percent because the burst of wind during the night pushed flames past some containment lines and within yards of several houses.

"It's a hot day and these are steep slopes," said Sierra Madre fire information spokeswoman Barbara Croonquist. "And the fact that it's so near the city makes it hard."

All Sierra Madre schools canceled Monday classes, and at least 1,000 people had evacuated their homes in the foothills. Authorities said no homes had burned since the fire began Saturday.

"This is pretty serious. Some of these areas have not burned in over 40 years," city spokeswoman Elisa Weaver said.

The blaze had been creeping northwest into the Angeles National Forest, Battalion Chief Tim Davis of the Forest Service said Sunday.

"It's very steep, inaccessible terrain, and it's very heavy brush," Davis said at a news conference. "Very difficult and arduous labor for these crews. You can't get bulldozers into the majority of where these fingers of fire run."

Two firefighters were treated for minor injuries, authorities said.

The blaze stranded 50 wedding party guests at a ranger station from Saturday until they were airlifted out by helicopter Sunday afternoon, Weaver said.