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Firefighters make progress

Nearly 20,000 acres charred in California


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Riverside Fire Captain Jim Rodman sets a backfire along a road while fighting the Cerrito Fire near Perris, California.
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Cooler weather may help firefighters battle flames.
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(CNN) -- Good weather is helping firefighters make progress against six Southern California blazes that have scorched nearly 20,000 acres this week in what officials fear could portend a brutal fire season.

Hundreds of people remained evacuated from their homes Wednesday. No fatalities have been reported.

Most of the firefighters' resources have been focused on two of four fires in Riverside County, where the Eagle fire destroyed 14 homes and charred more than 15,000 acres in a hillside area near Temecula since it began Sunday east of the town.

The firefighters' efforts were aided overnight by a drop in wind strength, cooler temperatures and higher humidity. By Wednesday afternoon, the Eagle fire had been 60 percent contained.

"The fire kind of burned in place, which allowed us to cut a ring, continue to contain the fire," said Bill Peters, of the California Department of Forestry. "We doubled our containment overnight."

Still, the nine structures that made up the 300-acre Dorland Mountain Arts Colony south of Temecula burned to the ground.

Also reduced to ashes were hundreds of original musical scores and a 1920s-vintage Steinway concert grand piano believed to have been played by the Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, said Karen Parrott, the artist retreat's executive director. (Full story)

The retreat was insured and will be rebuilt, she said.

The Cerritos Fire -- south of Corona -- has consumed 16,000 acres and six buildings. It is 30 percent contained.

A beetle infestation has killed thousands of trees in the region, littering the landscape with dry, dead wood -- potential fuel.

Two smaller fires in Riverside County were largely contained Wednesday.

A fire in Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County was 30 percent contained Wednesday.

A man has been charged with two felony counts of negligence for dragging a steel plate behind his vehicle, throwing off sparks that are believed to have started one of the fires.

In San Diego County, 1,900 acres burned at Camp Pendleton before that fire was fully contained Wednesday.

Last October, 24 people died and 3,400 homes were lost in wildfires that burned more than a million acres of Southern California.

The state's fire season officially began Monday.

CNN correspondent Ted Rowlands and producer Chuck Conder contributed to this report.


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