updated 6/15/2008 2:09:37 PM ET 2008-06-15T18:09:37

Improved weather on Sunday helped crews tamp down several Northern California wildfires that had destroyed dozens of homes and led thousands of residents to evacuate.

Evacuation centers began shutting their doors as many of the 9,000 residents who fled from in and around the Butte County town of Paradise returned Sunday to see the damage.

At least 74 homes were destroyed and 20 others were damaged in the Paradise area, about 90 miles north of Sacramento. The blaze had charred about 36 square miles, said Scott Upton, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The wildfire was 50 percent contained Sunday morning and Upton said crews expected to have it fully surrounded by Monday.

"They're just being very vigilant and not easing up now that the fire is coming under containment," Upton said.

More than a quarter of Paradise residents are over 65. Many had to be moved in buses because they don't drive, and residents who were bedridden or in wheelchairs were moved in vans or ambulances. One elderly woman died after suffering a heart attack while being evacuated.

The cause of the fire had not been determined.

In Santa Cruz County, firefighters got a handle on a wildfire that had charred nearly one square mile and destroyed at least three homes and eight other buildings in the Bonny Doon community. All evacuation orders were lifted as fire officials reported the blaze was 90 percent contained, but some roads remained closed Sunday morning as fire officials reported the blaze 90 percent contained.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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