A week after Northern California residents woke up to flames, smoke, and ash, officials are using hopeful terms like "containment," "entering recovery mode," and "turning a corner" to describe the battle against the blazes.
As reported Sunday, the death toll of the fire is currently at 40 civilian victims, making it the deadliest in state history. In addition, a contract firefighter was killed early Monday near Napa's Robert Mondavi Winery when he lost control of the water tender he was driving, taking the total death toll to 41. Officials are hopeful that number doesn't raise by much, as they predict that every active blaze in Sonoma County will be contained by week's end.
Officials also continue to locate people reported missing, and the number of missing is now down to 99, from a high of over 1,700 early last week, per the Chronicle.
According to the Chronicle, at a Sunday afternoon press conference in Santa Rosa Cal Fire deputy chief Bret Gouvea said that “Things feel good in our gut as firefighters." Mother Nature is aiding in the effort, meteorologists say, as rain is expected to fall in the fire-torn areas on Thursday and Friday.
“Conditions have drastically changed from just 24 hours ago, and that is definitely a very good sign,” KRON 4 quotes Daniel Berlant, spokesman for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, as saying. “It’s probably a sign we’ve turned a corner on these fires.”
As of Monday morning, the Associated Press reports: The Atlas Fire (the largest at 51,064 acres) is now 68 percent contained. The Tubbs Fire, which has burned 36,390 acres, is now 70 percent contained.
According to the Chron, The Nuns Fire has presently consumed 48,627 acres and is 50% contained.
“Firefighters continue to strengthen perimeter control lines, Cal Fire said in a statement sent early Monday. They will also "provide structure defense and engage in tactical patrol,” today.
With those promising numbers, many of the over 100,000 thousand evacuees have been given the green light to return home. That includes residents of the city of Calistoga, KRON 4 reports, some areas of Healdsburg, and all mandatory evacuation areas of Solano County. According to the Chron, all evacuation advisories for the city of Napa were also lifted Sunday, even as "many places remained blocked off."
While some school districts in the fire-ravaged areas have said they will remain closed for the week, others are already reopening.You can find a running list of what school is resuming classes when here.
But even as evacuees return home, perils remain: As of Monday morning, PG&E says that 22,000 residents are still without power, and hazardous waste and materials left behind by the fire have prompted Napa County officials to declare a local health emergency.
"The scope and breadth of the 2017 Napa Fire Complex, including but not limited to the many commercial and residential structures that have been decimated creates an imminent threat to public health, and the presence of apparent hazardous waste and materials require a rapid response to be safely removed from the sites of burned structures," Napa County officials said in the declaration.
"Many building materials contain asbestos, and older buildings often contain lead. Household hazardous waste such as gasoline, cleaning products, pesticides, and other chemicals may have been stored in homes, garages, or sheds that may have burned in the fire. These materials can become concentrated in ash and soil following a fire."
While the ecological effects of those hazardous materials will be felt in the months to come, many returning evacuees grappled with the immediate destruction. 56-year-old Howard Lasker, who returned to Santa Rosa Sunday to find his home in ruins, tells the AP that he's already ready to reclaim his life.
"This is my home I'm going to come back without question," Lasker, told the AP.
"I have to rebuild. I want to rebuild."
Jan Amarillas, whose "home of 30 years was almost instantly transformed into twisted metal and piles of rubble," NBC Bay Area reports, tells the station "You can’t explain and you can’t tell somebody what it’s like to go through this. You have to really experience it to feel the full impact of what it does."
"I’m 60 years old and suddenly I’m without my home that I’ve had for 30 years," she tells NBC." But, still, she's ready for what's next. "We all have to start over sometime," she says.
"I have the chance because I’m alive."
Lest you think Amarillas and Lasker are alone in their resilience, check out these signs tweeted by the Marin County Sheriff's Department Sunday. According to ABC 7, the signs reading "the love in the air is thicker than the smoke" are appearing all around Sonoma County, a sign of hope for the long road to recovery ahead.