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Last Updated: Monday, 3 November, 2003, 16:06 GMT
California fire residents return home
Couple in Cuyamaca, California, hug as they stand in the remains of their own home
The economic impact of the fires has been estimated at $2bn
Residents in southern California have begun to return to their homes after firefighters succeeded in containing most of the region's forest fires.

Many have found their homes and communities devastated by the flames and authorities have warned that electricity may not be restored to affected areas for weeks.

Light rain and snow and increasingly mild weather has aided efforts to combat the blazes and three of the largest fires - the Cedar fire in San Diego County and the Old Fire and Grand Prix fires in San Bernardino County - are now largely under control.

About 17 fires have ravaged the state in the past few weeks, killing at least 20 people, destroying more than 3,300 homes and scorching more than 750,000 acres (300,000 hectares) of land.

'We'll be fine'

Residents of Cedar Glen, a small town in the San Bernardino Mountains, lost more than 350 homes in the fires, which are still blazing in a broken arc in the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura, San Bernardino and San Diego.

Click below to see a detailed map of the affected areas

Homeowners found buildings incinerated and molten lumps of metal where their cars had been left in driveways.

"We've lost our home, our business, our valuables and our retirement," resident Camie Pretzinger told French news agency AFP, as she sifted through the charred remains of her home.

"I just don't know what we'll do now. It's all so unreal."

Others, such as Margaret Vega, 75, vowed to rebuild as soon they could "as long as the insurance company pays up".

"We're Californians at heart; we're used to disasters and we're used to recovering. We'll be fine," she told AFP.

Disaster zone

With major blazes almost contained firefighters are now concentrating on building firebreaks to protect threatened communities before the expected return of the Santa Ana desert winds - which fanned the flames - this week.

I live in the middle of this mess and it looks like a battlefield out here
Michael Davis, US

Authorities also planned to send as many as 3,000 firefighters home, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The economic impact of the fires has been estimated at $2bn, though this is likely to increase once property values and re-building costs are added.

With insurance claims also estimated to top $100bn, US President George W Bush has declared the affected areas a disaster zone, pledging the federal government will give all possible assistance.

At least two of the fires are believed to have been the result of arson and another is said to have been lit as a distress signal by a lost hunter.

Battling the inferno
30 Oct 03  |  Americas
In pictures: California blazes
30 Oct 03  |  Photo Gallery
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27 Oct 03  |  Have Your Say
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28 Oct 03  |  Americas
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28 Oct 03  |  Entertainment

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