Terry Pierson / The Press-Enterprise via AP
Community Emergency Response Team workers sign residents returning to Idyllwild, Calif., along Highway 243 after the evacuation order was rescinded in the areas affected by the Mountain Fire on Sunday.
Heavy rainfall helped crews contain the massive Mountain Fire in Southern California, officials said early Monday, bringing joy and relief to residents able to return to their homes.
Firefighters have the 42-square-mile blaze 68 percent contained, according to a statement from officials at 9.15 p.m. local time Sunday (12.15 a.m. Monday ET).
Storms dropped an inch and a half of rain on the blaze Sunday, officials announced, allowing thousands of residents to return to the resort town of Idyllwild and nearby communities southwest of Palm Springs.
“Words really can’t express how happy we are to be back home,” Idyllwild resident Jessica Priefer told the Press-Enterprise newspaper, which said one local coffee house threw an impromptu late-evening party to express gratitude to fire crews and other volunteers.
However, the mixture of rain and ash from the fire was not a pleasant one for many. “It looks and smells like a giant ashtray,” Palm Springs resident Domenique Wulfekuhle told the Desert Sun.
The weather was expected to remain in firefighters' favor with rain and thunderstorms forecast throughout Monday, NBCLosAngeles.com reported, though thunderstorms can be a double-edge sword, as lightning and flash floods were possible.
"Although conditions were hazardous and some crews were taken off the line due to the severe weather, firefighters continue to fight the fire aggressively where possible," U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Miller told NBCLosAngeles.com.
Officials on Sunday lifted the mandatory evacuations in place for Idyllwild and Fern Valley, allowing nearly 6,000 people to return to their homes.
The blaze has burned across more than 27,000 acres of dry brush and timber in the San Jacinto Mountains. Twenty-three structures have been destroyed, including seven homes. The cost of the fire is estimated at nearly $20 million.
At its peak, 3,478 firefighters were working to control the blaze, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Authorities have said the fire was human-caused, but they wouldn't say whether it was accidental or intentional, according to the Associated Press.
First published July 22 2013, 4:42 AM