Southern California wildfire roars to life in wilderness

Southern California's huge wildfire roared to life again today in a mountain wilderness area even as many neighborhoods were reopened to thousands of residents who fled its advance last week.

A massive plume rose suddenly at midmorning in the Santa Monica Mountains near the community of Lake Sherwood, prompting authorities to send aircraft to drop retardant and water on the blaze.

Forecasters had warned of continuing fire danger in Southern California due to persistent Santa Ana winds, the withering, dry gusts that sweep out of the interior toward the coast, pushing back moist ocean breezes.

Except for an apartment building that burned overnight in coastal Malibu, there was little sign of fire activity elsewhere in the vast fire zone west of Los Angeles.

Officials said their most recent assessments indicated that the fire burned 435 buildings as it spread over about 146 square miles and was 35 percent contained, with full containment expected Thursday.

It was unclear how many people remained under evacuation orders, though at one point the number hit about 250,000.

Dawn Kamber