Fire crews in N. California gain ground

(NBC News) – Calming winds are helping firefighters make progress against the string of deadly wildfires burning in Northern California.

Tens of thousands of evacuees were allowed to return home Sunday, but authorities are warning the danger hasn’t completely ended.

“They’re not going down easy, but we’re getting them and we feel a lot better about that,” said CAL FIRE Assistant Chief Bret Gouvea.

At least 40 people have been killed and 5,700 homes and businesses have been destroyed since the fires began early last week.

Hundreds of people are still missing. Search crews are now going door-to-door in burned out neighborhoods, sifting through the ashes for any sign of remains.

On Saturday, Gov. Jerry Brown called the wildfires “one of the greatest if not the greatest tragedy California has ever faced.”

Four more victims were identified during an afternoon press conference, bringing the total number of victims whose identities have been confirmed to 14.

The heavy smoke from the wildfires prompted an air quality alert to be issued for San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and the valley portion of Kern Counties, the National Weather Service said. The alert is expected to stay in effect until Tuesday.

The National Weather Service says exposure to the smoke can cause serious health problems, aggravate lung disease, cause asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and increase risk of respiratory infections.

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