Firefighters hoped that balmy temperatures would help them maintain their gains on many fronts today. In the mountains of San Bernardino County, the nearly 13,000-acre Slide fire was 65% contained by Saturday evening. Earlier in the day, it had been only 25% contained.
Even as something approaching normality returned to many areas, firefighters worked feverishly to take advantage of the comparatively low temperatures and light breezes. Some forecasters were predicting that the fire-triggering blasts of Santa Ana winds would return, although perhaps not as severely, at week's end.
In all, 1,997 houses had been listed as destroyed by Saturday night -- an increase of 222 from the total listed on Friday -- as officials continued to assess damage.
At the 27,521-acre Santiago fire, a cliffhanger that was still threatening dozens of homes in Orange's County's Silverado Canyon, a sprinkle of rain raised the hopes of weary firefighters and frustrated residents. At least 16 homes have been destroyed overall in the arson-triggered blaze.
"The threat is diminishing day by day," said county Battalion Chief Pat Antrim, himself a resident of the canyon for 46 years. "We're getting a little drizzle, which is better than hot wind."
By evening, firefighters said they had made steady progress, but Orange County's rustic canyon communities remained under a mandatory evacuation order.
Forecasters said the winds would change direction today, bringing slightly drier, warmer weather to the fire regions in Orange and San Diego counties. Moister air is to return on Tuesday.
In San Diego, 19,000 residents remained under evacuation orders, but local political and tourism leaders lost no time pitching the city's charms to prospective visitors.
"We want the message to go out across the world: San Diego is open for business," Mayor Jerry Sanders said at a morning news conference at the San Diego Zoo.
As the mayor spoke, families, out-of-state tourists and couples streamed through the zoo's entrance. Sanders said only one convention bailed out during the fires and that plans were still on for a popular golf tournament and a major neuroscience convention this week.
San Diego authorities said the city was almost entirely "repopulated" -- a judgment echoed at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Two animals died there as smoke poured through the area, but park officials disclosed that six more were born: three gazelles, a fringe-eared oryx, a Ugandan kob (an antelope), and a dik-dik (an antelope native to eastern Africa).
Officials warned residents of the thefts, scams and price-gouging that seem to trail every disaster.
Lt. Phil Brust of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said six people had been arrested on suspicion of looting in the last week, and 128 looting reports had been fielded by his office.
Playing for bigger stakes, an out-of-town company snapped up 50 apartments in the Rancho Bernardo area and tripled the rent, the mayor said. Alerted by an evacuee, city officials pressured the company to offer the apartments at the pre-fire rent.
Fly-by-night contractors were given a stern warning by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who showed up with other state officials for a morning briefing at the fire command center in Irvine Regional Park.
"If anyone tries to exploit this tragedy, I will make sure you will pay for it for the rest of your life," the governor said, also vowing that investigators would arrest those responsible for igniting two blazes -- including the destructive Santiago fire -- and perhaps another two in the region's string of fires.
So far, more than 1,000 tips on the Santiago fire have poured in to the Orange County sheriff's office, where deputies want to question the driver of a white Ford F-150 seen leaving the area where it began Sunday evening.