SANTA ROSA (AP) – The latest on California wildfires:
State and local officials say they are trying to get people back into their homes, but they cautioned that it could take days and even weeks for neighborhoods hard hit by Northern California wildfires.
Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said it will take time to ensure that homes in burned areas are safe and free of bodies.
Giordano says there are reports of 88 people still missing in Sonoma County. The county received nearly 2,000 reports of people missing, and most of them have been located.
He says he expects to find some of the missing in homes burned down.
The number of evacuated people has dropped from 100,000 on Saturday to 40,000 Monday morning.
Edgy 1960s comedian-turned-Sonoma Valley winemaker Tommy Smothers is in a new role as a temporary refugee with a cranky cat because of the Northern California wildfires.
Smothers, who is 80, dropped by an open deli in the partially evacuated town of Sonoma to buy three cans of cat food. He has owned vineyards above the nearby wine town of Kenwood for four decades.
Like tens of thousands of others, Smothers left his home last week when the deadliest group of fires in state history threatened.
He says he agonized over his decision to leave his neighborhood and now thinks he should have stayed.
But Smothers says the fires taught him that at his age, he doesn’t need most of his possessions.
Smothers was staying at a friend’s home and said he hoped the food would satisfy his “whining” cat.
In the historic main square of the wine and tourist town of Sonoma, townspeople have rigged a statue of the town’s 19th century founder with a face mask and handmade signs thanking firefighters.
The statue of Gen. Mariano Vallejo was draped with a dozen signs including one that read, “Thank you firefighters. Bless you!!! For saving our town.”
Firefighters spent days digging firebreaks to keep flames from reaching the city’s historic central plaza built centuries ago when the area was under Spanish rule.
The grassy square was empty Monday of picnickers, children and tourists who normally fill it.
The town of 11,000 people was still hampered by power outages, evacuation orders and advisories, and active fires in the ridges near town.
Tens of thousands of people have been allowed to return to their homes as the threat eases from the devastating California wildfires.
Officials said Monday the number of evacuees has gone from a high of 100,000 on Saturday to 40,000 Monday.
Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, expects more evacuation orders will be lifted later in the day as firefighters gain on the fires that have killed a firefighting truck driver and 40 other people while destroying thousands of homes.
Some people will return to untouched homes, while others will return to destruction.
California officials say a firefighting truck driver has died after the water transport truck he was driving rolled over near one of the wildfires that has devastated areas in and near Northern California’s wine country.
California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says the trucker who was contracted to transport water was the first firefighting worker to die because of the wildfires that have killed 40 others and destroyed thousands of homes.
The trucker died early Monday and was not identified.
Department spokesman Daniel Berlant says officials are investigating the cause of the crash that happened in the tiny Napa Valley community of Oakville.
Rain forecast for Northern California and lighter winds could help firefighters battling wildfires that have burned for more than a week.
National Weather Service meteorologist Charles Bell tells the San Francisco Chronicle that temperatures in hard hit areas will remain hot and dry for now but rain is on the way to the region where more than 40 people have died.
Bell says a storm now centered in the Gulf of Alaska should arrive in the area by Thursday and continue into Friday.
About two-tenths of an inch (0.5 centimeters) of rain is expected to fall.
Bell says that could help slow the spread of the fires.
Thousands of evacuees got the all-clear to return their homes after fire crews gained ground against devastating California wildfires.
The danger from the deadliest, most destructive cluster of blazes in California history was far from over.
But the smoky skies started to clear in some places.
People were being allowed to go back home in areas no longer in harm’s way. The number of those under evacuation orders fell from nearly 100,000 down to 75,000.
Those who were allowed back into gutted neighborhoods returned to assess the damage and see if anything was salvageable.
Nearly 11,000 firefighters were still battling 15 fires burning across a 100-mile swath of the state.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.