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More California wildfires are going down for the count

updated 9:18 AM EDT, Mon May 19, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Residents are returning home, after thousands had fled
  • Crews have battled more than 1,500 wildfires so far this year
  • Stubborn drought has made the area ripe for fire
  • Three people were arrested on suspicion of arson

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(CNN) -- The Cocos Fire is slated to go down for the count on Sunday, after scorching almost 2,000 acres of land.

Crews battling that blaze and other wildfires in Southern California expect to have it 100% contained before the day is done. And many of the other fires should meet with the same fate soon, they say.

A shift in the weather pattern has put the wind at their backs, figuratively speaking, bringing in cooler winds and moist air from the Pacific Ocean.

That means that Cocos resident Eloisa will get to return home after taking up temporary residence on a green cot in a high school gymnasium.

Residents watch a wildfire near San Diego on Friday, May 16. Wildfires devoured more than 20,000 acres in San Diego County after a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to the parched state. Residents watch a wildfire near San Diego on Friday, May 16. Wildfires devoured more than 20,000 acres in San Diego County after a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to the parched state.
California wildfires
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The Red Cross had converted it into a fire shelter and lined up dozens of the cots in uniform rows and columns. Most of them were empty, and Eloisa, who didn't give her last name, was one of the few guests left inside.

She told CNN affiliate KGTV that she is not ready to leave because of a culinary delight she tasted there.

"I don't like Mexican food, but they had something called fajitas," she said. "Oh, I came for seconds."

Good food at shelters notwithstanding, many residents have been able to return home, as crews have tamed walls of fire.

It has put a mass exodus into reverse.

In all, 176,000 notices of evacuation had been sent throughout San Diego County via cell phone calls, e-mails, text messages and calls to homes and businesses.

Battleweary

Firefighters are very close to bringing another enemy to its knees, the Combat Fire, which has consumed 6,500 acres of land, according to Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton.

And the fight against an even bigger blaze, the Las Pulgas Fire, is 55% won. It has eaten away 15,000 acres of vegetation -- a patch about the size of Manhattan Island.

When the last of the flames have ceased to roar, more than 1,000 firefighters from Cal Fire will pack up over 100 engines and more than two dozen water trucks and bulldozers.

That's not counting the ranks of firefighters from the Marine Corps and their equipment.

The numbers are already lower than they were at the peak of the blazes' rage.

At one point, at least eight wildfires singed the bone-dry mountains and valleys, and fire planes doused smoldering swaths with bright red fire retardant.

But if predictions are correct, the exhausting work of the firefighters is far from over, as the fire season this year is expected to be particularly bad.

And the crews' fortitude has been put to the test already.

Since January 1, Cal Fire has responded to over 1,500 wildfires. This week's rash of blazes is a reminder of just how extreme the drought in California is.

If the hazardous conditions were not enough, investigators suspect that arson may have contributed to some smaller blazes. Three people have been arrested, one of whom has been charged.

In anticipation of what calamities may come, the agency is urging all Californians to ensure they are prepared by visiting ReadyForWildfire.org.

Flames have swallowed up dozens of homes and businesses already this year. And the wildfire season has only just begun.

Evolution of a disaster

The wave of wildfires started Tuesday with the Bernardo Fire in San Diego County. The next day, new blazes popped up -- each one separate from the others, each posing its own dangers.

Here's where some of the major California fires stood Sunday morning, according to the agencies responsible for tracking them. The fires are listed by the names they have been given. The list begins with active fires and ends with contained fires:

Cocos Fire

Acres Burned: 1,995

Contained: 85%

Tomahawk Fire

Acres Burned: 5,400

Contained: 97%

San Mateo Fire

Acres Burned: 1,500

Contained: 80%

Las Pulgas Fire

Acres Burned: 15,000

Contained: 55%

Highway Fire

Acres Burned: 380

Contained: 100%

Poinsettia Fire

Acres Burned: 600

Contained: 100%

Bernardo Fire

Acres Burned: 1,548

Contained: 100%

Bone dry + brutal heat + gusty winds = unseasonably early wildfires

What to know about wildfires

Are you there? If you're in a safe place, please share your photos and videos.

CNN's Carma Hassan, Joe Sutton, Chelsea J. Carter and Kisa Mlela Santiago contributed to this report

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