SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — Thousands of Northern California residents forced to evacuate their homes due to wildfires were allowed to return Thursday after firefighters made progress.
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.
“We’ve had a lot of good success,” Mark Brunton, a state fire official at a blaze in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties south of San Francisco, said early Thursday.
Solano County, north of San Francisco, began allowing people back home on Thursday. In the heart of wine country, evacuation orders in Napa and Sonoma counties were lifted Wednesday for about 35,000 people who had been told to leave after lightning ignited dozens of blazes last week.
Firefighters and utility workers were clearing areas for returning residents after crews increased containment lines — the creation of fire breaks to prevent wildfires from spreading more — of the massive cluster of fires north of San Francisco to about 33%.
However, the fire also jumped a highway and threatened homes in neighboring Yolo County near the community of Rumsey, prompting new evacuations Wednesday.
That fire, the site of at least five deaths, still threatened 30,500 homes and other buildings after destroying more than 1,000.
Two of the dead were identified as Douglas Mai, 82, and Leon Bone, 64, both of Vacaville. They died on Aug. 19.
Bone was nearly blind, couldn’t drive and didn’t have a phone, family members told KNTV-TV.
“He was probably taken by complete surprise,” said his cousin, Daniel Bone.
Bone had lived on the property his entire life and refused to move when his parents died, his cousin said.
“He was happy there and that’s the only place he wanted to be,” he said.
To the south, the fire in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties was 35% contained and authorities lifted an evacuation order for the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Officials asked anyone with information on the whereabouts of Shane Smith, 21, and Micah Szoke, 37, to call the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. Both men lived in evacuation zones and were reported missing.
The fire’s activity had slowed but “deep-rooted heat still remains in the bottom of the steep, inaccessible drainages,” Cal Fire said.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chris Clark sought to reassure people that looters wouldn’t take advantage when areas are reopened.
“Someone had mentioned, ‘Is it going to be a foot race between myself and some thief to my house?’ and that’s not the case,” he said.
Since Aug. 15, hundreds of fires around the state have killed at least seven people and burned nearly 1,900 homes, Cal Fire said.
The massive fires — coming months earlier in the season than expected — have already burned more than 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers) and pushed firefighters to the breaking point. However, personnel, bulldozers, aircraft and other equipment from around the country have joined the firefight.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)