California Burn Areas Escape Flood Damage

Weary residents ordered to evacuate during heavy overnight rains returned home Wednesday as the threat of mudslides and flash flooding in Southern California's wildfire burn areas eased on the eve of Thanksgiving.

All 1,500 people ordered to leave their homes in the Orange County city of Yorba Linda were allowed back in and no major flooding was reported in the hilly suburban communities that burned so dramatically earlier this month.

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Northwest of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara County officials lifted evacuation orders for residents of about 2,200 homes. Many had fled their homes for the second time in a month.

Bob Cluff, 76, fled his Anaheim Hills home of 34 years two weeks ago as embers dropped into his backyard and then endured the fear of mudslides from the charred hills above him.

On Wednesday, he savored the cooking smells as his wife, Vernice, prepared for the arrival of their 20 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for the holiday.

"I feel like I'm extremely blessed," Cluff said. "When you've lived here as long as we've lived here, that makes it very difficult to get turned out or flooded out."

The first big Pacific storm of the season came ashore Tuesday, and on Wednesday it was still occasionally dropping rain heavy enough to trigger scattered flash flood warnings, but the region largely appeared to have avoided serious damage.

There were scattered reports of small rock slides in Santa Barbara County, a slipping hillside in southern Orange County and a small mud flow in a canyon that burned last fall — but officials had feared much worse.

"The weather event is over, that doesn't mean our work is over," said William Boyer, spokesman for Santa Barbara County. "This is really just the beginning of the real rainy season for this area."

Without significant damage, the wet weather was a welcome change from a long siege of temperatures in the 80s and 90s with skin-withering dry Santa Ana winds that fanned destructive wildfires around Southern California. About 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed fires this month. Dozens more burned in October.