CALISTOGA (CBS SF) -- After a week of temperatures soaring into upper 90s and triple digits, firefighters battling the massive Glass Fire finally got relief Monday from the sweltering conditions as evacuated residents returned to their Calistoga homes abandoned as a wall of flames bore down on the wine county community last week.
Cal Fire meteorologist Tom Bird said during a Monday morning briefing that the extreme weather of last week has given way to cooler temperatures.
"We've gotten past the most extreme conditions we've seen across the fire since it began," he said. "Over the weekend we had the highest, most critically extreme temperatures and relative humidity with highs 20 to 25 degrees higher than normal."
As the weather took a turn for the better Monday so did the fortunes of the residents of Calistoga. They continued to return to their evacuated homes after an evacuation order was downgraded to a warning on Sunday afternoon.
One of the last things Ted Osborne did before fleeing the advancing flames of the massive Glass Fire last week was to take a photo of his Calistoga home.
He wasn't sure he would ever see it again. On Sunday, he returned with hundreds of his neighbors as the evacuation order for Calistoga was downgraded to a warning and was overjoyed to see his home still standing.
"It's fantastic to be home for sure," he told KPIX 5 as he unloaded his SUV Saturday night. "I know a lot of people lost their homes, but a lot of homes were saved. It's surprising when you're driving through the mountains, you're like 'wow'"
Michael Mulaney also returned home. As the ferocious inferno devoured hillsides close to Calistoga last week, Mulaney was among those who thought it was the end of their serene and historic town.
"It didn't make any sense to stay," he said of his choice to obey the evacuation order. "It was very scary. It took time to load my car thinking this was it."
Over the last week, firefighters waged an intense battle to keep the flames outside the city limits. Several homes were destroyed and damages in the outskirts of town. Their efforts drew praise from the returning residents.
"We're so grateful for all the firefighters and so grateful our town was saved," said Kim Wedlake.
Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning also knows how fortunate the town's residents were as the fire continues to rage elsewhere.
"We were spared the brunt of it in the city limits but neighbors to west, south, east of us haven't been as lucky," Canning said.
By Monday evening, the fire had grown to 66,840 acres with 41 percent containment. The fire also has taken a devastating toll in homes, businesses and wineries. At least 487 homes and 326 commercial buildings have been destroyed in Sonoma and Napa counties with Cal Fire warning that number will climb as damage estimate teams gain additional access to the burn area.
Calistoga wasn't the only area repopulating Monday. Evacuated residents were also allowed to return to the non-burned areas of the Oakmont neighborhood in Santa Rosa.
While firefighters had tamed the fire at the Calistoga city limits, there was an intense battle going on north of the city. New evacuation orders for residents living in northern Napa County were issued on Sunday.
The evacuations were for the areas of Northern Napa County bordered on the west by Highway 29 at the Robert Louis Stevenson trailhead, the north by Livermore Road, the east by Aetna Mine Road, and the existing evacuation orders to the south.
Officials also said Pope Valley Road between Pope Valley Cross Road and Aetna Springs Road and Highway 29 between the Lake County Line and Deer Park Road were closed.
During his Monday morning briefing, Cal Fire Battalion chief Sean Norman said crews also had made progress against the fire in the rugged Bear Creek Canyon area southwest of St. Helena.
"That has been Achilles heel on this side of fire," he said.
Norman said the north edge of the burn zone toward Lake County continued to be a problem area, but firefighters have made progress on taming the flames.
"That's been the most troubling part of the fire and the most active," he said. "They (firefighters) had a great day yesterday. They were able to get to a point last night where they have just 400 feet of line to put in today."
When it comes to allowing the residents to return to the evacuated community of Angwin, Norman said it would be another 24-36 hours.
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