30,000 Sonoma County residents allowed to go back home

The Sonoma County Sheriff on Monday announced some 30,000 residents in the western part of the county could return to their homes, as he downgraded the mandatory evacuation order to a warning.

Sheriff Mark Essick said the decision was based on CalFire weather predictions that show the risk for those areas has been greatly reduced, while other areas remain closed.

"Right now, we don't feel comfortable lifting the evacuation order for some of these areas closer to the fire: Santa Rosa, Larkfield, Wikiup, particularly Windsor. We still see significant risk there. We'll just have to play it by ear," Essick said.

The announcement came as a new evacuation warning was issued in Lake County for the area of Middletown, putting residents there on notice. The Red Cross said they have shelters on standby in Lake County in case they are needed.

In downtown Sebastopol, residents began returning to the empty streets.

"I'm completely grounded in Sebastopol. This my home and no matter what kind of tragedies we may have. I'm not leaving it," said David Brown, as he started to tear up.

Eric and Jen Lofchie and her family fled at 4a.m. Saturday and stayed with friends in Petaluma.

"I was surprised. I wasn't expecting to be let back in just yet," said Lofchie.

They borrowed a neighbor's generator to power up their appliances, but they and their neighbors are keeping their go bags in the car.

"After what happened in the Tubbs fire, we were ready, prepared because we realized how quickly things can happen in the middle of the night," said Lofchie.

"It was difficult to leave obviously and coming back is a relief. And it's still not totally clear, so we're just hoping for the best," said Rick Rozet, a Sebastopol resident.

"Never before have we had gusts like that. It was just insane. It was crazy," said Barbara Philipp of  Sebastopol.

Rozet and his Philipp got a shock though when they returned. Their beloved cat they'd had to leave behind had died.

"Coming back to find her that way was not what we wanted," said Philipp.

Even with no power in their home and traffic lights out through most of town, many residents are feeling grateful they are alive and safe.

For Kelley McNeal the past few days have been doubly stressful. Her son Chaz Mathias is a volunteer firefighter with the Graton fire department and was battling the blaze in Windsor Sunday.

"I've just been trying to be calm, but I was holding him in my heart the whole time he was out there. I was worried about him." said McNeal.

The Red Cross says they have 4,000 evacuees at shelter sites throughout Sonoma County and can handle up to 10,000 if needed.

At the Sonoma County Fairgrounds In Santa Rosa, the manager says anyone who needs help should come in for food, a bed, blankets and more, without worrying about safety or immigration status.

"We take information from people when they register with us. We don't share it with government entities of any type," said Hilary King, Manager of the Red Cross Sonoma County Fairgrounds Shelter