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Calmer Winds, Cooler Temps Helping to Aid Firefighting Efforts

 Firefighters battling blazes throughout San Diego County got a break from the weather today. Calmer winds and cooler temperatures are helping, but there's still a long way to go.

Despite a massive aerial assault, several major fires in the county are far from containment. Hundreds of thousands of people who evacuated are being allowed back into their neighborhoods. Qualcomm Stadium which sheltered more than 12,000 people at the height of the evacuations, had just 2,500 people left this morning. County Emergency Services Chief Ron Lane says shelters will continue to empty through the day.

"This is going to be ....Get our community back to the vibrancy that we had prior to this incident."

The number of deaths directly caused by fire is now three. Crews found bodies of two people in a burned out Poway home.

More than 482,000 acres - about 753 square miles - were burned in a broad arc from Ventura County north of Los Angeles east to the San Bernardino National Forest and south to the U.S.-Mexico border. San Diego County has taken the worst from the wildfires. Crews cut fire lines around the major blazes - The Harris Fire in southeast county, the Witch, Rice and Poomacha blazes. But none of the four fires was more than 40 percent contained and more than 8,500 homes remained threatened.

Officials continued to lift evacuation orders, the latest in Escondido, which was particularly hard hit.

Despite the improving news, nearly 18,000 customers in the San Diego area remained without power Thursday. A San Diego Gas & Electric Co. helicopter attempting to restore power crashed Thursday morning, but all four people aboard escaped injury. The cause of the crash isn't known.

Economic losses total at least $1 billion in San Diego County alone, and include a third of the state's avocado crop. The losses are half as high as those in Southern California's 2003 fires, but are expected to climb.

The more hopeful news on the fire lines came a day after residents in some hard-hit San Diego County neighborhoods were allowed back to their streets, many lined with the wreckage of melted cars. As the voracious wildfires starts to recede, many other county residents will be allowed back to their neighborhoods. More than 500,000 people were evacuated in San Diego County alone, part of the largest mass evacuation in California history.

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