RIVERSIDE, Calif. -

Riverside County's foreclosure activity continued its downward spiral last month as the number of properties being repossessed dropped significantly on an annualized level.

A total 1,660 mortgage default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions were recorded countywide in February, translating to 1 in 479 households in some stage of foreclosure, according to Irvine-based RealtyTrac.  
 
The number of filings was down 3 percent from January -- and 65 percent lower compared to February 2012.

A sharp downward shift in foreclosure activity began last fall as new foreclosure remediation legislation went into effect. The county's home losses are now at pre-recession levels.    

"At a high level, the U.S. foreclosure inferno has been effectively contained and should be reduced to a slow burn in the next two years," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

He said "flare-ups" are still possible in states where there's a growing backlog of foreclosure starts delayed by court actions, including Maryland and Washington.

Nationally, 154,281 properties slipped into foreclosure in February, according to RealtyTrac. The activity represented a 2 percent uptick from January but a 25 percent decline from February 2012.    

California ranked No. 13 in U.S. foreclosure activity last month, with 18,003 properties going into default, or 1 in 757, according to RealtyTrac. The figure was a half percent below the number of filings in January and 62 percent less than a year ago.

Florida had the highest foreclosure rate nationwide, with 1 in 282 households in default in February.