AMANDA LEE MYERS and BRIAN SKOLOFF, Associated Press
MALIBU, Calif. (AP) — Authorities were investigating a report of a body found within the burn zone of a huge wildfire in Southern California, but the coroner’s office was unable to confirm Wednesday whether it was burned.
Two deaths were previously linked to the weeklong blaze in Ventura and Los Angeles counties that was 47 percent contained after scorching more than 152 square miles (394 square kilometers), engulfing homes, scenic canyon getaways and celebrity estates.
The body under investigation was found in a burned residence in the Agoura Hills area. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department called it an apparent fire-related death but did not immediately have any further information.
The Woolsey fire flared before sunrise Wednesday in rugged wilderness at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains as winds buffeted parts of the region.
The flare-up sent a huge column of smoke out to sea as it burned in parklands well away from communities.
The National Weather Service said winds would slack off sufficiently during the afternoon to allow authorities to lower wildfire warnings from their highest “red flag” levels.
Forecasters cautioned, however, that low humidity levels would keep danger levels elevated.
Authorities allowed residents back into several more communities on Tuesday, including a section of Malibu. Other areas have been repopulated since the weekend. As many as 250,000 people were ordered out at the height of the fire.
Officials tempered optimism with caution, saying there were hotspots and pockets of unburned vegetation that could ignite.
“We are not out of the woods yet. We still have some incredibly tough conditions ahead of us,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said Tuesday.
The two adults found dead last week in a car overtaken by flames have not been identified.
The number of homes and other structures destroyed stood at 435 but that number was expected to rise.
More than 80 percent of National Parks Service land in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was incinerated.
Some people who stayed behind in coastal communities that were cut off by road closures got supplies by boat. Gas, food, baby wipes and horse pellets were among the items brought ashore in the Paradise Cove area of Malibu. Some residents donned wetsuits and swam ashore with cases of water and beer.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s really amazing that people out there know that we’re kind of stranded here in Malibu,” Cherie Millford Smart said.
The area has not seen such a destructive blaze since 1993. The blaze has left an array of hazards, including trees ready to fall, downed power lines, toxins, and water main and gas leaks.
A forecast of possible rain next week would help firefighters but also raised the prospect of potential mud flows.
A new fire erupted late Tuesday about 75 miles (121 kilometers) to the east in the Fontana area of San Bernardino County, but firefighters reported good progress overnight, holding the blaze to 147 acres (59 hectares).
The cause of the Woolsey fire remained under investigation.
Downed power lines and blown transformers have been blamed for several of the deadly fires that have burned around the state in recent years.
A lawsuit was filed Tuesday over a wildfire in Northern California, where at least 48 people died in the Camp Fire that obliterated the town of Paradise. The suit on behalf of some victims accuses Pacific Gas & Electric Co. of causing the massive blaze.
A landowner near where the fire began said PG&E notified her the day before the wildfire that crews needed to come onto her property because wires were sparking.
Myers reported from Thousand Oaks. Associated Press writers John Antczak and Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles.