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Crews Hope Rain Will Further Help Tamp Wildfires

Officials meet with evacuees in Sonoma County to answer questions about re-entering their homes and getting aid from FEMA

Authorities say cooler temperatures and light rainfall expected Thursday will be a "welcome sight" for firefighters battling the blazes burning across the North Bay. Meanwhile, evacuees returning to little or nothing are seeking help.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant says fire crews should fully contain by Friday the wildfire that devastated Sonoma County and Santa Rosa.

Other large fires will take longer.

The wind-whipped fires that started Oct. 8 swept through parts of seven counties, becoming the deadliest and most destructive series of blazes in California history. At least 42 people were killed and nearly 7,000 homes and structures were destroyed.

Cal Fire announced it had stopped the forward progress of those fires on Wednesday as tens of thousands of evacuees were let back into their neighborhoods. More than 15,000 people remained evacuated on Thursday.

As of Thursday morning, the Atlas Fire has burned 51,624 acres in Napa and Solano counties and is 85 percent contained; the Tubbs Fire has scorched 36,432 acres in Napa County and is 92 percent contained; the Nuns Fire, which includes the Partrick, Adobe, Norbbom, Pressley and Oakmont fires, has burned 54,423 acres in Sonoma and Napa counties and is 82 percent contained; and the Pocket Fire has burned 16,552 acres in Sonoma County and is 73 percent contained.

Farther north, the Sulphur Fire in Lake County has torched 2,207 acres and is 96 percent contained, and the Redwood Valley Fire in Mendocino County has charred 36,523 acres and is 85 percent contained.

Meanwhile, firefighters continue to battle a blaze further south in the Santa Cruz mountains that started Monday night.

As people return to their homes, officials are warning them of the presence of hazardous materials. Sonoma County hosting meetings to discuss these and other issues.

The meeting addressed finding housing, financial relief and preparation for people trying to return to their homes.

And a timeline.

When can evacuees get back into their homes? That was a common question, as was, When will the money come in from FEMA?

"Registering for FEMA was a surreal experience for us," Glen Ellen resident Bonnie Barnes said. "But I felt a sense of compassion today. I feel like they are doing everything they can, but they just can’t do it as fast as we all wish."

FEMA assistance will pour in soon for affected homeowners, in about 5-7 days they were told. Anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of dollars, depending on one's property.

But re-entry for many is not imminent, as there are many agency boxes to check off, officials said.

"Everyone from the law enforcement to the fire to the telephone companies, power, road crews. Every agency that it takes to make an area safe," said Jonathan Cox, of Cal Fire.

Those parties are producing hourly plans, though Cal Fire calls the task monumental.

Meanwhile, air quality improved enough Thursday for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to lift a health advisory and Spare the Air alert that was issued earlier this week.

However, officials warn unhealthy air quality will still be present in the immediate areas of actively burning fires.

NBC Bay Area's Sam Brock contributed to this report.

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