SONOMA COUNTY (CBS SF) – People who live near the northeast perimeter of the Walbridge Fire in Sonoma County started to return home Wednesday, an important marker in the county’s recovery from the blaze, Cal Fire officials said.

“Our engine companies are out there today assisting those homeowners as they get back to their homes in whatever way they can during these trying times,” said Cal Fire Division Chief Ben Nicholls at a news conference.

Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputies are also patrolling “to ensure that no nonresidents end up in that area,” Nicholls said.

At the fire’s peak, some 42,000 Sonoma County residents were either ordered to evacuate their homes or warned that they soon might have to. But over the past several days, those numbers have rapidly dwindled.

On Wednesday, evacuation orders were downgraded to evacuation warnings in areas of Cazadero, Guerneville and a long swath of the Dry Creek area on the east side of the fire that residents had been prevented from returning to.

The blaze – part of the 375,209-acre LNU Lightning Complex fires that have burned parts of six counties and killed five people – had consumed 54,940 acres in northwest Sonoma County and was 87 percent contained Wednesday evening.

The entire LNU Complex fire was 78 percent contained. The largest fire in the LNU Complex, the Hennessey Fire, has burned 317,909 acres and was 76 percent contained.

Nicholls said firefighting crews are working to extinguish remaining hot spots on the Walbridge Fire’s perimeter, a job complicated by the steep terrain and heavy timber in the area.

“Those crews will be out there en masse through the weekend and into next week, with a smaller force anticipated for at least a month’s period of time after that due to the heavier materials burning down,” he said.

As of Wednesday evening, Cal Fire reported that the complex of fires had destroyed 772 single family homes, one multi-family residence, one mixed-use commercial and residential building and 11 commercial buildings.

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