SAN DIEGO – A week after the start of the Southern California wildfires that chased a half-million people from their homes, firefighters were aided by a return of damp weather Monday — but they were aware strong Santa Ana wind could redevelop by week's end.
The state Office of Emergency Services damage tally rose Monday to 2,786 buildings destroyed, including more than 2,000 homes.
Clouds streamed inland from the Pacific on Monday and meteorologists predicted areas of drizzle and light showers through Wednesday morning.
Fire crews were already benefiting from precipitation in some areas, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "We continue to make great progress," he said.
The 58,401-acre Ranch Fire northwest of Los Angeles in Ventura County was fully contained during the night and crews were pushing to complete lines around six other big blazes.
However, there was a chance of moderate Santa Ana wind — the strong, dry gusts that fanned the flames last week — returning by Friday, the National Weather Service said. The winds wouldn't be as strong as last week, but wouldn't be weak either, the forecast said.
"It's a little premature to be celebrating, that's for sure," California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Fred Daskoski said earlier. "We're looking for full control within a week but if we get any of these winds returning, there is a possibility that a couple of spots could have a blowout, and then we'd be off to the races again."
The wind gusted last week up to 100 mph, pushing flames across more than 500,000 acres of seven Southern California counties.
Nearly all mandatory evacuation orders had been lifted, and victims have begun assessing damage and trying to figure out where to go next.
Nearly 8,300 people had contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance, said spokeswoman Kelly Hudson. FEMA has handed out $600,000 in housing assistance so far, most of it for rental payments and hotel stays, and the agency was putting about 260 inspectors in the field to verify claims, she said.
The Red Cross reported 389 people still in 11 shelters, though it was unclear how many other evacuees had found their own lodging.
In San Diego, the largest remaining shelter was at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, where about 130 evacuees were living, some of them after losing homes.
Lisa Shields, 32, arrived at the fairgrounds last week with two small children after being ordered to evacuate her Ramona home. Days later, she said she hadn't gone home because of a continuing boil-water order in her community.
"I don't want to risk it," Shields said. "I'm not going to get up to boil water for the baby in the middle of the night, or take them to some other place for a bath, when we're already in good shape here."
Others were working out how they would survive financially.
Janet Knecht supports three daughters, a grandson and her mother by cleaning houses in the wealthy mountain communities. She is concerned she may suffer financially until residents return home.
Before the fires, she earned $1,200 to $1,500 each month.
Knecht believes her renter's insurance will cover some of her personal property losses, and she plans to apply for lost wages at FEMA.
"I think we'll bounce back," she said. "The worst will be not being able to recover any of our personal things."
Seven deaths were directly attributed to the fires, including those of four suspected illegal immigrants, whose burned bodies were found near the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday.