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Lake Fire: Cooler weather to help firefighting crews

A burned out portion of the Lake Fire off Jenks Lake Road in the San Bernardino National Forest is seen in this June 22, 2015, file photo.
A burned out portion of the Lake Fire off Jenks Lake Road in the San Bernardino National Forest is seen in this June 22, 2015, file photo.
Stuart Palley for KPCC

Cooler weather in the forecast for Monday is expected to help firefighters battling a huge forest fire in the San Bernardino Mountains.

The National Weather Service in Oxnard said a high pressure system that pushed temperatures into the triple digits in Southern California over the weekend was drifting east, allowing a gradual cooling trend into the middle of the week.

The Lake Fire in San Bernardino County burned nearly 27 square miles in the mountainous wilderness about 90 miles east of Los Angeles and was 21 percent contained, according to fire officials.

"[Firefighters are] working to keep it south of Highway 38 and they've been really successful with that. That's where the majority of the 21 percent containment is," U.S. Fire Service spokesman Lee Beyer told KPCC.

Highway 38 remained closed from above Angelus Oaks to Lake Williams Drive.

The fire burning southeast of Big Bear has consumed some well-known hiking trails.

The Aspen Grove trailhead has been burned through in that area. It's the southern-most aspen grove in California, according to Beyer.

Beyer said aspens tend to thrive in northern, wetter areas, but they regenerate well after fires. 

The fire broke out for unknown reasons on Wednesday and forced several hundred people to leave the camps and vacation homes, according to the Associated Press.

About 500 buildings, including old cabins, were threatened.

But the fire has been kept away from more-developed campgrounds, like the Camp Heart Bar and Wild Horse equestrian campgrounds, Beyer told KPCC.

Fire Tracker: Lake Fire in San Bernardino County

The winds pushing the fire east carried the smoke into the desert and the Coachella Valley.

The Morongo Valley is getting the worst of the smoke, but in general people nearby were finding it easier to breathe on Monday, Beyer told KPCC.

"The air quality is kind of improving for the Big Bear area as the fire moves further east," Beyer said.

In Northern California, about 325 firefighters focused on protecting the Sierra Nevada town of Markleeville, about 20 miles south of Lake Tahoe, from a wind-driven wildfire that exploded in size from roughly a half square mile, or 350 acres, on Saturday to 10 square miles, or 6,500 acres, on Sunday, fire spokeswoman Elizabeth Kenna said.

She didn't know how close the flames are to the town of 200, but said the powerful wind gusts, bone-dry timber and steep, rocky terrain were hampering firefighter's efforts to contain the blaze.

A spot fire off state Route 4 forced the evacuation of five homes and 15 cabins and an unknown number of campers, she said.

Meanwhile, a blaze that burned at least two homes near Santa Margarita, just northeast of San Luis Obispo, grew to about 2.8 square miles. Helicopters took water from nearby Santa Margarita Lake to dump on the blaze, which was 50 percent contained.

Residents of 72 homes were evacuated at the height of the fire Saturday afternoon, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reported.

Glenn Westbrook said he was preparing to barbecue some meat Saturday when he saw fire across the road from his mobile home. His son Patrick and Patrick's friend grabbed the family's goat, rooster and dog just ahead of the flames. When they came back on Sunday to see their home reduced to a smoldering pile.

"It was pretty much ashes. It was pretty much gone," Westbrook told the Tribune. "But thank God I got the boys and the animals out. That's all that really matters."

A 920-acre fire in Madera County destroyed three structures and brought the evacuation of a handful of homes. It was 75 percent contained.

Firefighters made gains against a blaze in the Sierra National Forest, south of Yosemite National Park, that burned 500 acres. The fire was 40 percent contained.

Three air tankers were brought in to douse the blaze that was started by a vehicle, according to government reports. Officials warned the fire, fed by heavy, dry brush, could double in size in the next few days.

This story has been updated.