MURRIETA, CA - Firefighters raced the winds Monday morning to contain Southern California wildfires that destroyed 20 homes and threatened several hundred more in rural areas.
Winds gusting to 25 mph were expected in the afternoon in southeastern San Diego County, where a 2,000-acre fire churned slowly through hilly brushlands in a desert area near the U.S.-Mexico border.
The blaze was 10 percent surrounded Monday morning. About 80 homes were ordered evacuated near the Campo Indian Reservation.
"The winds are picking up, but we still have cooler temperatures" and firefighters hoped to make progress, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. Mike Mohler.
The fire has destroyed 20 homes, damaged 10 and burned 15 outbuildings since it erupted on Sunday, Mohler said.
An evacuation center was set up at a high school in the nearby community of Pine Valley. Many residents gathered at the Golden Acorn Casino, which also served as the command post for firefighters, to learn whether their homes were still standing.
Christopher Kirchner told U-T San Diego that the place he rents was about 200 feet from a residence that burned down.
"I was just talking to some of my neighbors," Kirchner said. "They were crying and saying they had no place to go. We've heard rumors that our place is still standing, but nobody will tell us anything."
Farther north, a 150-acre wildfire in Riverside County is about 90 percent contained. It had been reduced mainly to embers but still posed a potential threat to as many as 200 homes in the Murrieta area if afternoon winds pushed it over fire lines, Murrieta Fire Chief Matt Shobert said.
The cause of both fires was under investigation.
Elsewhere in the West, major wildfires in Washington on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range were relatively calm, but smoke continued to blanket some communities Monday.
The two largest fires were reported as bigger in size due mostly to better mapping and the use of burnouts to create fire lines, officials said. The Wenatchee Complex of fires was reported Monday morning at 82 square miles, while the Table Mountain fire was reported at nearly 57 square miles in size.
State officials said air quality in the Wenatchee and Cashmere areas remains in the "hazardous" category, while many other Eastern Washington communities have "unhealthy" air quality. Air quality was not expected to improve much Monday.
In Montana, Musselshell County lifted an evacuation order for about 50 homes southeast of Roundup after a 5 1/2-square mile wildfire was reported about 60 percent contained.
Fire officials hope to have the blaze fully under control by Tuesday.
The human-caused blaze ignited Saturday and is under investigation.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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