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Some California Residents Begin Returning Home Following Wildfires

Some California residents are returning home, as the state's major wildfires come close to containment. Many residents are thankful that their homes were spared and others are coping with their losses.

As officials lift evacuation orders for some communities, thousands of people have headed home. Seven-hundred left an evacuation center in San Bernardino Sunday.

Sandy Raynor of the American Red Cross said the experience is hard on the 500 who are still there. "A lot of these people don't know yet whether their homes are safe. And so there can be tensions sometimes. The Red Cross has mental health professionals that are there to provide someone to talk with so that the parents can worry about moving forward and what's going to happen when they go home," she said.

Recovery workers are now tallying the cost of the wildfires: 20 lives lost, including that of a firefighter; 300,000 hectares scorched and more than 3,400 homes destroyed.

Evacuee Dan Sanchez is still waiting for word on the condition of his house near the mountain town of Rim Forest. "And I'd like to know if I still have one or not, and I've been calling all over, but nobody can give me any information," he said.

Evacuee Lori Leis has received some good news. Her house is undamaged, and she has a job to return to. "And my job is already calling me. They're wanting me to come back. Great," she said.

Hundreds of others were not so lucky. Many learned for the first time on returning home that their houses had been lost. This resident surveyed the rubble. "This is hard, and I'm going to be frustrated, but I'm never going to feel despair."

Cool, wet weather is helping firefighters subdue the remaining blazes, but they say there are other hazards. The fires have cleared many hillsides of their foliage, leaving communities susceptible to mudslides.

Recovery worker Justin MacGregor said there is also a danger of falling branches. "A tree that's been burned that is already dead has limbs just on the verge of falling off. It has a lot of hazards up above the ground, where people aren't looking all of the time," he said.

The remains of the only firefighter killed in the blazes, Steven Rucker, were returned Monday to his home town of Novato in the San Francisco Bay area. A colleague who was injured remains hospitalized near San Diego.

Meanwhile, authorities are searching for two suspected arsonists who are thought to have sparked the fire near San Bernardino. The authorities say at least four of the dozen or so blazes that devastated the state may have been caused by arson.