SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (Jesse Gary/KTVU) - Favorable weather conditions and a concerted effort by hundreds of firefighters have allowed ground crews to get the upper hand on the Bear Fire. The 320-acre blaze, burning in steep, inaccessible terrain in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is now 30 percent contained.
But 300 structures are still threatened and four have already been destroyed. However, early Thursday morning there was a reverse exodus at the Los Cumbres neighborhood. Dozens of residents forced to evacuate their mountaintop community by approaching flames, returned to their homes.
An elderly couple driving into the neighborhood shouted from their windows they're "very, very, happy" to be back at home.
Fire officials say cooler temperatures and higher humidity have allowed crews to get the upper hand on this 321-acre fire. Flames that had raged since Tuesday are now slowed to a crawl.
"Right now the flames are very small and fire activity is greatly reduced from what we saw the first couple of days of this fire," said Captain Jordan Motta, a spokesman with CalFire.
Resident John O'Toole jumped into action to insure he and his wife escaped to stay with friends in Santa Cruz.
"I looked out my window and saw smoke and ash falling and said it's time to go," said O'Toole, remembering that fateful night.
Now, success on the fire's front lines means a return to his four-bedroom house on Old Vineyard Road. The duffle bag of clothes, tech gear, and chain saw to clear roads are all being put back inside.
"I've been living with the possibility that everything could have gone up in smoke. So it's a very, ah, it's a very grateful feeling," said O'Toole.
Doctor Tony Wong and family also beat a hasty retreat as flames approached the back decks of homes in this secluded neighborhood.
"We took some clothes, our passports, and our children and left," said Dr. Wong, sitting in his car outside his house.
His family is now back home, trying to settle into a normal routine he says, due to firefighter's efforts.
"I felt reassured that they were there, standing on our decks, looking out over the fire making sure that our homes were safe," said Dr. Wong.
Evacuation orders are still in effect for people living on any of the canyon roads in the fire zone, as well as Springs Lane, Moon Rise Road, Mustang Mesa, and Bear Creek Way.