Some evacuees from huge California wildfire return to ruins

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California Wildfire Evacuees Return Home as Flames Ease

CLEARLAKE OAKS, Calif. (AP) -- A Northern California wildfire that incinerated 43 homes and sent thousands fleeing was reduced to embers and smoke as winds died and evacuees returned home - but some found only ashes.

Most of the 1,200 or so people forced from their homes by the July 29 blaze were allowed back by Friday, and two highways used as firebreaks reopened.

The blaze was 62 percent contained by Saturday morning after sweeping through nearly 109 square miles of rural timberlands and brushy hills in Lake, Colusa and Yolo counties.

It was only creeping and smoldering Friday night.

"The fire's cold," fire spokesman Dominic Polito said.

Photos from the California wildfire:

38 PHOTOS
Lake County, California 'Rocky Fire' wildfires
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Some evacuees from huge California wildfire return to ruins
A firefighter lights a backfire as the Rocky Fire burns near Clearlake, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. The fire has charred more than 60,000 acres and destroyed at least 24 residences. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
CLEARLAKE, CA - AUGUST 03: A Cal Fire firefighter is silhouetted by his headlamp as he monitors a backfire while battling the Rocky Fire on August 3, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Nearly 3,000 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 60,000 acres has forced the evacuation of 12,000 residents in Lake County. The fire is currently 12 percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. 6,300 homes are threatened by the fast moving blaze. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Flames rise from a wildfire near Clearlake, Calif., Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. Officials called for evacuations Monday as numerous homes were threatened by the flames. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
James Logan and his wife Lisa embrace during a community meeting for evacuees as a wildfire burns near Clearlake, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. Firefighters made some progress Tuesday afternoon with some help from light rain that fell in the area. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Volunteers who declined to give their names react as a Sheriff informs evacuees that they will need to leave The Moose Lodge in Clearlake Oaks, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. The Rocky fire continues to burn and has charred more than 65,000 acres and destroyed 24 residences. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
A firefighter watches a backfire as the Rocky Fire burns near Clearlake, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. The fire has charred more than 60,000 acres and destroyed at least 24 residences. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
CLEARLAKE, CA - AUGUST 03: A Cal Fire firefighter walks by burned out trees during a backfire operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 3, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Nearly 3,000 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 60,000 acres has forced the evacuation of 12,000 residents in Lake County. The fire is currently 12 percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. 6,300 homes are threatened by the fast moving blaze. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CLEARLAKE, CA - AUGUST 03: A Cal Fire firefighter moves away from a tall flame as he uses a drip torch to burn dry grass during a backfire operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 3, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Nearly 3,000 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 60,000 acres has forced the evacuation of 12,000 residents in Lake County. The fire is currently 12 percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. 6,300 homes are threatened by the fast moving blaze. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CLEARLAKE, CA - AUGUST 03: A Long Beach Fire Department fire captain uses a flare to burn dry grass during a backfire operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 3, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Nearly 3,000 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 60,000 acres has forced the evacuation of 12,000 residents in Lake County. The fire is currently 12 percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. 6,300 homes are threatened by the fast moving blaze. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A vehicle burned in the Rocky Fire is shown near Lower Lake, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. Firefighters made some progress Tuesday afternoon with some help from light rain that fell in the area. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Arnold, of the Long Beach Fire Department, douses flames from a wildfire near Clearlake, Calif., Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. Officials called for evacuations Monday as numerous homes were threatened by the flames. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Andrew Mehr, of the Long Beach Fire Department, looks on as flames from the Rocky fire approach near Clearlake, Calif., Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. Officials called for evacuations Monday as numerous homes were threatened by the flames. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Firefighter Joe Darr douses flames of the Rocky fire along Highway 20 near Clearlake, California on August 2, 2015. Thousands of firefighters battled raging wildfires on August 2 in drought-parched California, where officials evacuated entire neighborhoods and closed miles of highway in the path of the inferno, which has claimed at least one life. AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Cal Fire firefighters watch a back burn while fighting the Rocky fire off highway 20 near Clear Lake, California on August 2, 2015. The fire has charred more than 27,000 acres, and is currently only 5% contained. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Brush and trees burn during the Rocky fire off highway 20 near Clear Lake, California on August 2, 2015. The fire has charred more than 27,000 acres, and is currently only 5% contained. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
A Cal Fire firefighter leads a group of inmate firefighters during a burn operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 2, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 46,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Inmate firefighters march along highway 20 as they monitor a burn operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 2, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 46,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A Cal Fire truck is driven away from flames as the Rocky fire burns near Clear Lake, California on August 2, 2015. The fire has charred more than 27,000 acres, and is currently only 5% contained. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Cal Fire firefighters watch a large plume of smoke as it rises from the Rocky Fire on August 1, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that burned over 22,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Oceanside Fire Department captain Greg DeAvila monitors a burn operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 2, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 46,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Inmate firefighters monitor a burn operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 2, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 46,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
In this long exposure, lights from a car streaks by as flames and a huge plume of smoke rise into the air as the Rocky fire burns near Clear Lake, California on August 2, 2015. The fire has charred more than 27,000 acres, and is currently only 5% contained. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Cal Fire firefighters monitor a backfire ahead of the Rocky Fire on August 2, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that burned over 22,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Firefighter Joe Darr douses flames of the Rocky fire along Highway 20 near Clearlake, California on August 2, 2015. Thousands of firefighters battled raging wildfires on August 2 in drought-parched California, where officials evacuated entire neighborhoods and closed miles of highway in the path of the inferno, which has claimed at least one life. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
The Rocky fire burns near Clear Lake, California on August 2, 2015. The fire has charred more than 27,000 acres, and is currently only 5% contained. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighter Joe Darr douses flames of the Rocky fire along Highway 20 near Clearlake, California on August 2, 2015. Thousands of firefighters battled raging wildfires on August 2 in drought-parched California, where officials evacuated entire neighborhoods and closed miles of highway in the path of the inferno, which has claimed at least one life. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Oceanside Fire Department captain Greg DeAvila shoots a flare into dry brush during a burn operation to head off the Rocky Fire on August 2, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that has burned over 46,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A large plume of smoke rises from the Rocky Fire on August 1, 2015 near Clearlake, California. Over 1,900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that burned over 22,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed at least 14 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Goats run away from their pen after firefighters freed them as the Rocky Fire approaches on July 31, 2015 in Lower Lake, California. Over 900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that erupted to over 15,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed 3 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Flames from the Rocky Fire approach a house on July 31, 2015 in Lower Lake, California. Over 900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that erupted to over 15,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed 3 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A firefighter monitors flames from the Rocky Fire as it approaches a home on July 31, 2015 in Lower Lake, California. Over 900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that erupted to over 15,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed 3 homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Firefighters spray a hose at a fire along Morgan Valley Road near Lower Lake, Calif., Friday, July 31, 2015. A series of wildfires were intensified by dry vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and gusting winds. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Flames from the Rocky Fire approach a house on July 31, 2015 in Lower Lake, California. Over 900 firefighters are battling the Rocky Fire that erupted to over 15,000 acres since it started on Wednesday afternoon. The fire is currently five percent contained and has destroyed three homes. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Burned trees are seen along a dirt road near where homes were lost as a result of the Rocky fire near Clear lake, California on August 02, 2015. Thousands of firefighters battled raging wildfires Sunday in drought-parched California, where officials evacuated entire neighborhoods and closed miles of highway in the path of the inferno, which has claimed at least one life. Some 6,000 homes were evacuated as 21 large fires burned in the bone-dry western US state, which is in the throes of a historic drought. A total of 121,000 acres (49,000 hectares of land have burned so far, according to figures provided by the state. (Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Burned signs are shown on a road near Lower Lake, Calif., Friday, July 31, 2015. A series of wildfires were intensified by dry vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and gusting winds. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Firefighters tend to a back fire operation at left under smoke from fires along Morgan Valley Road near Lower Lake, Calif., Friday, July 31, 2015. A series of wildfires were intensified by dry vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and gusting winds. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
An air tanker drops a load of fire retardant while fighting a large grass fire, Monday, July 27, 2015, in Elverta, Calif. Firefighters from multiple agencies, with at least a dozen fire engines, several aerial tankers and helicopters battled the flames that burned at least 75 acres and threatened dozens of homes in the suburban community just north of Sacramento. No injuries or cause of the fire have been reported. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Firefighters water down a hot spot while fighting a large grass fire, Monday, July 27, 2015, in Elverta,Calif. Firefighters from multiple agencies, with at least a dozen fire engines, several aerial tankers and helicopters battled the flames that burned at least 75 acres and threatened dozens of homes in the suburban community just north of Sacramento. No injuries or cause of the fire have been reported. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Winds that had gusted erratically and sent huge flames surging through bone-dry vegetation had eased to breezes, and crews planned to concentrate on dousing hot spots, he said.

"If you had a log that was still a hot coal and then the wind kicked up, it starts blowing sparks on a hot day," he said. "We're basically putting out anything that potentially travels. But the fire's not growing anymore. It's not actively burning."

Weekend weather in the area was expected to be hot with higher humidity and winds of around 10 mph.

About 800 of an estimated 1,200 evacuees went home Thursday night. Most of the others returned Friday, including Brian Foster, who had left his house for the second time in three years on Sunday night, along with his partner, mother and pets.

"I feel pretty wonderful. It's a huge relief," Foster said Friday. "It's going to feel so good to be home."

But while containment grew, so did the sadness for some who lost everything.

Layna Rivas returned to her artists' compound up a rocky dirt road Thursday night and found the place destroyed. "It looked like a bomb went off everywhere," she said.

The 35-year-old left her home last week and took her dogs and cats to a friend's house. She had to leave her nine chickens behind.

She found two of them, one of which was walking through the rubble.

"She was nameless. Now her name is Rocky," said Rivas, dubbing the bird for the blaze that officials call the Rocky Fire.

It was most active of 17 burning in California that in recent weeks have scorched homes and scoured rural areas.

One firefighter died from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning while battling the Frog Fire in northeastern California. The body of Black Hills National Forest Engine Capt. David Ruhl has been returned to his home in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Many blazes were sparked by lighting from so-called dry thunderstorms that dropped little rain. There were some storms overnight Thursday in other areas of the state, but they missed the Rocky Fire area.

Wildfires throughout the West have fed off dry conditions in Washington state, Montana, Arizona and elsewhere.

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