California Fire Victims Return Home As Damage Assessment Begins

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The fierce fire that blazed through Southern California mountain areas this week has weakened, allowing thousands of displaced residents to finally start rebuilding, CBS News reports.

The Blue Cut Fire was still smoldering Saturday, but officials are now able to make an estimate on damages. At least 105 residences and 213 outbuildings have been destroyed, officials say.

Costa Dillon, a spokesperson for the fire department, says containment of the fire some 60 miles east of Los Angeles was at 83%. Evacuation notices for residents were lifted, except for El Cajon Valley where mandatory evacuation remains in place.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said Sunday that Lytle Creek residents may now return to their properties, and show proof of residence upon doing so.

At the peak of the fiery disaster, over 82,000 people had to leave their homes under evacuation orders.

The estimated numbers in damages could increase as assessment teams go over the aftermath of the fire, said Fire Marshal Mike Horton, San Bernardino County Fire Department.

California’s dry spell only served as easy fodder for the blaze that began Tuesday. Firefighters and emergency responders who worked day and night to combat the inferno are finally moving on to clean-up duty, authorities say.

Horton is leading a team of 15 investigators, technicians, hazardous materials experts and other specialists who will determine the extent and nature of fire damage. The team has a mobile command center operating just south of the burned-out area measuring 58 square miles.

Properties and items are often too destroyed to tell what it once was, so technicians are using mobile computer applications to download geographic and county assessors’ data. They use this data to check on what was in an area before the fire turned things to ash.

Anxious residents have some idea of what awaits them, thanks to quick action by the damage assessment team. The team’s goal is to gather data and make it available online, via phones and postings at evacuation centers.

Damage is color-coded: red for “complete damage,” orange for 40-75% damage, yellow showing less than 40% damage and green meaning no damage at all.

Swaths of California have turned into kindling due to a prolonged drought, with six more wildfires burning in the state. This includes one in San Luis Obispo County, which forced the historic Hearst Castle to close.

In Santa Barbara County, a wildfire raging across 15 square miles forced two campgrounds to evacuate, while in Sierra Nevada, a fire in Sequoia National Forest forced residents in the area to flee. In San Francisco, a fire in the mountains razed 189 homes and eight businesses in Lower Lake, but has been contained.

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