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Lighter Winds Aid Firefighters Working To Contain California Blazes

A large home that survived last week's wildfire sits by the burned ruins of another nearby home, on Monday in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Authorities are increasingly optimistic that they have turned the tide in their week-long battle against the deadliest wildfires in California's history.

Lighter winds were helping firefighters both in the air and on the ground to contain the majority of the biggest fires and rain forecast for later in the week would further boost their efforts, NPR's David Schaper reports from Santa Rosa.

At least 41 people have died as a result of the nearly two dozen fires — the latest a firefighter driving a water tanker that overturned on a steep grade near the northern edge of the Nuns Fire between Santa Rosa and Napa, officials said.

Close to 100 people are still reported missing from the fires.

But officials are expressing confidence that wildfires that have scorched some 200,000 acres, including significant parts of the wine country of Sonoma and Napa counties, are gradually being brought under control. Even so, officials warn that some of the fires are still dangerous and residents need to heed evacuation orders until they're given the all clear.

As of late Monday, Cal Fire says the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County, which engulfed more than 36,432 acres is now 75 percent contained; the Atlas Fire in Napa County is at 51,064 acres and 70 percent contained; the Nuns Fire along the Napa-Sonoma county line is 51,512 acres and 53 percent contained.

Meanwhile, residents are preparing to return home this week — some to comb through the burnt ruins of their houses, and others to clean up and prepare to move back in, reports Laura Klivans of member station KQED in San Francisco.

"Burning materials — structures, trash, trees — produce small particles. Toxic chemicals can cling to these and people can breathe them in. So when fire survivors return home, they risk kicking up the dangerous dust that has settled," Klivans says.

The Associated Press reports:

"Many of those who returned knew in advance whether their homes were standing or reduced to ash.

Satellite images, aerial photos and news reports with detailed maps of entire neighborhoods had given homeowners in populated areas a pretty clear idea of the fire's path. Some had seen the flames coming as they fled. Some families in rural areas had to wait until they laid eyes on their property."

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