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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 October 2006, 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK
California fire partly contained
An air tanker drops fire retardant near Banning, California
Helicopters, air tankers and a DC10 aircraft lead an air offensive

Firefighters in California are making some progress in containing a forest fire, which has consumed more than 16,000 hectares (62 sq miles).

Calmer winds and cooler temperatures have given the fire crews a chance to partially bring the blaze under control - they say it is now 40% contained.

Four firefighters have died and one is in a critical condition with 90% burns.

A $500,000 reward has been offered for information about the fire, which investigators say was set deliberately.

Those responsible for starting the fire east of Los Angeles could face murder charges in connection with the deaths of the four firefighters.

The police are following up a report that two men were seen leaving the area where the fire started.

Governor Schwarzenegger paid tribute to the firefighters who were killed on Thursday, saying every resource would be given to finding those responsible for the blaze.

"We've decided that the state will add $100,000 to the reward of finding the arsonists of the Esperanza fire," he told reporters.

The total reward on offer from fire services, government agencies and citizens now stands at $500,000.

No cover

The dead firefighters have been named as Capt Mark Loutzenhiser, 44; Jess McLean, 27; Jason McCay, 27; and Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20.

expanded map

They were killed when flames changed direction so quickly they had no time to take cover. They had been fighting a house fire and were left stranded by a sudden change in the fire's direction.

Doctors said on Friday they hoped to be able to operate on the injured firefighter, Pablo Cerda, 23, who is said to be in a "poor" condition with burns on 90% of his body.

Nearly 2,000 personnel have been involved in fighting the fire since it broke out at 0112 local time (0812 GMT) on Thursday.

The BBC's Peter Bowes in Los Angeles says the ground operation is being reinforced from the air with helicopters, air tankers and a modified DC10 aircraft dousing the flames with a fire retardant.

Hundreds of families have been forced to leave their homes.

The weather service has issued a red flag warning for extreme fire danger in the next few days. Officials say it may be next week before the blaze is completely under control.

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Do you have any pictures of the blaze? If so, you can send them to yourpics@bbc.co.uk

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