Mild Weather Helps Firefighters Battling California Wildfires; Dozens of Homes Destroyed

Milder-than-expected weekend weather has helped fire crews tamp down a series of Northern California wildfires that have destroyed dozens of homes and forced thousands of residents to evacuate.

Evacuation centers began shutting their doors as many of the 9,000 residents who fled from in and around the Butte County town of Paradise returned Sunday to view the damage. At least 74 homes were destroyed and another 20 were damaged in the Paradise area, about 90 miles north of Sacramento.

Firefighters were spending another dry, windy day cutting fire lines to halt the blaze, which has scorched about 36 square miles, said Scott Upton, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

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The wildfire was 50 percent contained Sunday morning after a blustery couple of days, and Upton said crews expected to have it fully surrounded by Monday.

"They're just being very vigilant and not easing up now that the fire is coming under containment," Upton said. Five firefighters suffered minor injuries battling the blaze.

More than a quarter of Paradise residents are over 65. Many had to be moved in buses because they don't drive, while those who were bedridden or in wheelchairs were moved in vans or ambulances. One elderly woman died after suffering a heart attack while being evacuated.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation.

In recent days, high temperatures, steady wind and tinder-dry vegetation contributed to wildfires around the state.

In Santa Cruz County, firefighters got a handle on a wildfire that has charred nearly one square mile and burned at least three homes and eight other buildings in the Bonny Doon community. All evacuation orders were lifted but some roads remained closed Sunday morning as fire officials reported the blaze 90 percent contained.

Authorities late Saturday released a sketch of a man being sought for questioning about the fire. Officials would not say whether he was suspected of starting the blaze, which was sparked on Wednesday.