A wave of residents returned to their southern California mountain communities following a week of wildfires that have killed 20 people and destroyed more than 3,400 homes.
San Bernardino Mountains to see if their homes survived one of the most destructive infernos.
In the San Bernardino Mountains town of Cedar Glen, owners of about 350 homes found only devastation yesterday.
“The house is completely gone, nothing,” Pedro Helguera, 52, said of the home he and his wife had lived in for 24 years. “We’ve got to start from the bottom.”
The blaze, known as the Old Fire, was among a barrage of wildfires that have killed 20 people, destroyed more than 3,400 homes and burned nearly 750,000 acres across southern California.
Business owner Marcia Ledkins was among the more fortunate of the thousands of people who fled the resort town of Big Bear Lake a week ago as wind-driven flames closed in. She reopened her liquor store and deli yesterday, giving away coffee, doughnuts and sandwiches to anyone who stopped in.
“We’re happy to be home and see everything’s safe,” she said.
The fire was 72% contained after burning more than 91,000 acres and destroying 851 homes.
In San Diego County, the 281,000-acre Cedar fire – the largest individual blaze in California history – was 90% contained yesterday after burning for six days in the mountains north east of San Diego.
In all, five fires in three counties were not yet fully contained yesterday.
Fire-fighters have been aided by wet, cool weather that moved in on Thursday. Santa Ana winds had been expected to return as soon as today, but US Forest Service spokeswoman Ann Westling said the winds probably would not return for another week.
Some towns in the San Bernardinos remained off-limits because of concerns about mudslides, falling rocks and trees and damage to Highway 18.
As the threat diminished, authorities planned to send as many as 3,000 fire-fighters home.
Bob Narus, a spokesman for officials fighting the Old Fire and a nearby blaze, said about 800 fire-fighters were sent home on Saturday after working 16-hour days. He didn’t know how many were to be demobilised yesterday.
Most of the fire-fighters being released were on loan from city and county fire departments state-wide and were needed back home, Mr Narus said.