50,000 that fled California fires allowed back home

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – More than 50,000 people forced to flee their homes were allowed to return by Thursday night as firefighters made progress in their effort to put out massive and deadly wildfires in Northern California.

Officials were working on plans to repopulate other evacuated areas. Cooler weather and higher humidity, along with an influx of equipment and firefighters, continued to help hard-pressed crews fighting some of the largest fires in recent state history, burning in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.

Evacuation orders for more than 20,000 people were lifted over the past 24 hours in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, where a massive blaze caused by lightning was 24 per cent surrounded, fire officials announced.

In heavily damaged areas, crews were working to restore electricity and water so more people can return to their homes, Santa Cruz County Chief Deputy Chris Clark said.

“I think we’re going to have good news day to day,” he said, adding that three people reported missing in evacuation zones had been found.

The fire has burned at least 516 homes but the tally could rise. Inspection teams were struggling to get into remote areas because bridges were damaged and roads blocked by fallen trees and power lines, fire officials said.