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Gains made on wildfire as smoke lingers over LA

LOS ANGELES -- Hundreds of people were allowed to return home yesterday as firefighters gained ground against a 20,000-acre wildfire that cast such a smoky haze over the city that drivers turned on their headlights in the middle of the day.

The blaze on the Los Angeles-Ventura county line was 20 percent contained, and was expected to be 35 percent surrounded by day's end, said Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant.

''We're really happy with the weather today. This is a good opportunity for us," he said. ''It is a very, very important day for us in fighting this fire."

Firefighters were aided by fading desert winds that let more humid ocean air move back inland. But the shift also pushed smoke over parts of Los Angeles and neighboring valleys.

At one point on Thursday afternoon, motorists drove through the San Fernando Valley with their headlights on. Yesterday, health officials urged residents to restrict outdoor activities and advised people with heart and lung diseases to take precautions.

Evacuations were canceled in 10 areas and remained in effect for only two -- Lake Manor and Bell Canyon. About 400 people remained in Red Cross shelters.

Despite the fire's furious pace over the previous two days, the flames destroyed only two houses, three outbuildings, a storage building, and a detached garage, authorities said.

Elsewhere, 1,200 people were evacuated from mountain communities 70 miles east of Los Angeles because of a 450-acre blaze in the San Bernardino National Forest. A small fire slumbering in hills above suburban Burbank also awakened, sending up a towering plume at midday.

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