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More Homes Destroyed, As Firefighters Battle Massive Wildfires In 100 Degree Weather

MIDDLETOWN (CBS/AP) -- The tally of homes destroyed by two massive Northern California wildfires topped 1,000 Saturday after authorities doing damage assessments in the Sierra Nevada foothills counted another 250 houses destroyed by flames still threatening thousands of more structures.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said the count of 503 homes destroyed by the blaze burning for a week in Amador and Calaveras counties comes as firefighters make progress and damage inspection teams have access to affected areas.

Cal Fire had reported 252 homes destroyed as of Friday night by the week-old fire that has charred 110 square miles.

"Some of the homes are tucked back in rural areas so it's taken time to reach them," Berlant said.

The fire, which killed at least two people, was 65 percent contained but still threatening another 6,400 structures.

Meantime in Lake County, about 170 miles northwest, the Valley Fire destroyed at least 585 homes and burned hundreds of other structures. It has killed three people.

Residents of Middletown, the area hardest hit by the massive wildfire, were allowed to return home Saturday afternoon. Evacuation orders for other areas in Lake County remained.

The Valley Fire tore through 62 square miles in 12 hours, causing thousands of residents to flee after it ignited a week ago. About 19,000 people were ordered to evacuate. The blaze had charred 116 square miles and was 48 percent contained Saturday.

Lake County residents from Middletown were being allowed to go home Saturday, according to Cal Fire. Roadblocks along state Highway 29 at Tubbs Lane and Livermore Road were scheduled to start allowing area residents through at 12 p.m.

Additional evacuations orders have been lifted for the communities of Aetna Springs, James Creek and the surrounding areas in Napa County, Cal Fire announced Saturday afternoon.

As of Thursday, the mandatory evacuation order for the community of Berryessa Estates had also been lifted to residents only.

There were more than 4,200 firefighters assigned to the Valley Fire as of Saturday morning, and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Heat was descending again on the deadly and destructive wildfires after a few days of fair and favorable conditions, raising fears that major gains could be undone.

"We're looking at predicted weather of 100 degrees for the next couple of days, and at least mid-90s throughout the weekend," Scott Mclean, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said Friday.

That makes it essential that the smoldering remains of the two giant blazes be dealt with as quickly and thoroughly as possible, Mclean said.

"You've got some high temps, high winds that could stir up those ash piles and those ember piles," he said. "We have to do that mop-up to be sure this fire goes to bed."

A number of survivors of the Valley Fire said they never got an official evacuation notice when the danger was at its peak a week ago.

Authorities defended their warnings and rescue attempts, saying they did all they could to reach people in the remote area of homes, many prized for their privacy.

"You may get that notice, or you may not, depending on how fast that fire is moving," Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynnette Round said. "If you can see the fire, you need to be going."

TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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