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Last Updated: Friday, 26 October 2007, 04:11 GMT 05:11 UK
Little rest for California fire crews
A change in winds have helped firefighters battling wildfires across a wide area of southern California but blazes continue to burn. The BBC's Matthew Price joined a crew dousing flames in the Palomar Mountains between San Diego and Los Angeles.

Firefighter Dave Garving points to smoke rising a few miles to the south and says: "We're about to roll, we've just got a call.

Firefighter on the La Jolla Indian Reserve - 25/10/2007
Shifting winds are making it difficult to douse the flames

"White smoke too. Means it's burning pretty fierce."

The volunteers of the Inter-Mountain fire station jump into their engine, sound the siren briefly, and rush off as they have been doing for five days.

Here, in the open rural areas of southern California, is where the battle is now being fought.

Looking for smoke

We drive down empty country roads, past charred fields and the charcoaled stumps of trees.

Then off onto a dirt track, trying to find the fire in time.

The east winds dropped, then they switched on us and now they're coming from the west
Californian firefighter

On board, one of the volunteer fire fighters, Andrew Cusiak, pulls on his bright yellow fireman's helmet.

"We're looking for the smoke. Working out where it is."

Two other engines are coming up fast behind. We turn into a farm.

"We're not going to hit it right away with water," says Andrew Cusiak. "We'll work out the best way to tackle it."

One of the farmers has driven his digger close to the fire, and he's tearing up trees and bushes, trying to isolate the flames.

Firefighters tackle blazes in San Diego County
The fires have sent a choking pall of smoke over the region
The crews roll out their hoses. A radio crackles: "We need more pressure."

"Get that white bit there, it's burning," someone shouts.

"I've been here since four on Sunday. About four or five hours after the fire started," Michael Parks tells me.

"We were fighting in 75mph (120km/h) winds at the top of some of these ridges. And I tell you it tested our abilities. But we're hoping to get the upper hand here now that the wind's died down."

Then the breeze lifts slightly. "We've got the onshore winds here now, this is moving east," someone says over the radio.

'110% effort'

There has been some criticism from those who were evacuated from their homes, and those who lost property, about the response to the fires.

Some said that there was not enough equipment made available early enough.

"This fire movement is such a rapid spread, that having the amount of equipment available...," Michael Parks trails off.

"That's not my job, but I tell you, we gave 110%."

Slowly but surely they fight this local fire back. It is pretty small, and they got here quickly enough.

The big problem is that there are several of what they call these "flare-ups" at any one time. They have to get to them before they spread.

Stinging smoke

It is tough work. No one can escape the smoke here.

As our reporting team flew in to San Diego airport, we could smell it inside the aircraft cabin even before our plane started to make its descent.

On the ground it is even worse.

We followed six Los Angeles fire engines up into the Palomar Mountains where one of the fiercest fires is still raging.

Aircraft flew overhead, emerging from the grey smoke, dumping orange coloured flame retardant and water onto the flames below.

The fire crews edged forward, the smoke getting more and more dense.

A plane drops fire retardant - 25/10/2007
Firefighters have been battling the flames for nearly a week
It stings the back of the throat. After a while, you start to get a headache.

This is hard, dangerous work for the fire crews. So far around 30 firefighters have been injured.

Are they winning the battle?

"Everything we do here, the winds are against us," one fireman said. "The east winds dropped, then they switched on us and now they're coming from the west."

Whenever the wind surged it fanned the flames. The trees and shrubs crackled. The fire spread. A wild rabbit ran right out of the smoke and into safety.

Vast areas of southern California have now been burning like this for almost a week.

Everyone here knows that stopping the fires depends heavily on something they can not control.

Firefighter Michael Parks looks exhausted, but he says they are all still hoping.

"We're going to get this thing and put it to bed."

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