Evacuees from a number of counties in California have been allowed to return home as fire fighters say they've turned a corner in containing blazes that have devastated the state.
"Conditions have drastically changed from just 24 hours ago, and that is definitely a very good sign. And it's probably a sign we've turned a corner on these fires,'' said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
"We're starting to see fires with containment numbers in the 50 and 60 percent, so we're definitely getting the upper hand on these fires," he added.
Belia Ramos of the Napa County Board of Supervisors spoke to reporters Sunday morning for what she said would be the last time as Napa County, best known for producing wine, moved into recovery mode.
“This is our last planned press conference and the reason for that is that we are now switching over towards recovery mode. It’s a day I have looked forward to for a week. A week ago this started as a nightmare and the day we’ve dreamed of has arrived," Ramos said Sunday.
But fire fighters across the state are still battling flames. The death toll rose to at least 40 on Saturday, with at least 16 fires burning. One side of the fire zone stretched for 160 square kilometers, destroying some 5,700 homes and businesses. Some 100,000 people have evacuated their homes. But some have stayed behind.
"It was wind driven. Wind driven is basically powerful winds started pushing and intensifies the fire," said Captain Jimmy Bernal of the Rancho Fire District.
The flames have crept into the town of Sonoma, a name synonymous with the California wine industry, forcing 400 households in the city of 11,000 to evacuate.
The strong, dry Santa Ana winds that blow down from the mountains every late summer and early fall are creating conditions that make the fires spread easily. Some gust to 64 kilometers per hour, pushing the flames over fire breaks dug by firefighters.
More than 9,000 people — many of them exhausted — are fighting the California wildfires, both local fire personnel and thousands of volunteers, who have poured into the area over the last few days.
The firefighters have come from other parts of California, and as far away as Australia.