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Residents return to fire-scarred Florida county

SHARE Residents return to fire-scarred Florida county

With firefighters gaining ground, authorities lifted an evacuation order Monday for fire-ravaged Flagler County, allowing more than 40,000 residents to return home for the first time in three days.

The flames that had forced the evacuation of the entire county on Friday had been contained, Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay said."We are pleased the tide has turned to some extent at least temporarily," MacKay said.

There was still a threat of flare-ups, he cautioned.

MacKay said one heart attack death was reported during the Flagler evacuation, but he gave no details. No deaths have been blamed directly on the fires, which have devoured some 458,300 acres around the state since Memorial Day.

Temperatures Monday were forecast to rise to near 100 degrees, the high on Sunday afternoon. Isolated severe thun-der-storms were possible Monday afternoon and evening, but emergency officials have said it will take more than 10 inches of rain to extinguish the flames. It was unclear whether a storm building in the Caribbean would reach the area.

Though officials said the fires ebbed in intensity Sunday, there were scattered flare-ups. Plumes of smoke lined the sky for miles and flame dotted many stretches of woods.

State officials estimate that nearly 2,000 fires have damaged or destroyed 222 homes and businesses and injured nearly 100 people, many of them firefighters.

The total cost of fighting the fires has topped $110 million and losses are estimated at $276 million. The federal government has contributed $66 million. More than 100,000 people had been evacuated from their homes.

On Sunday, residents of the scarred region of northeastern Florida gathered to pray - for firefighters, for their houses and, most immediately, for rain.

Several of the region's major north-south arteries remain closed, including more than 100 miles of Interstate 95 from near Jacksonville to Cocoa Beach.