Four burned bodies found in the path of California's fierce wildfires raised the death toll to at least 12 people, even as firefighters won the upper hand and officials turned yesterday toward assessing the damage.
Though more than 20 fires raged across Southern California into a sixth day, some 8,000 firefighters had brought most of them under control and no more homes were in imminent danger.
Some lost everything to the flames but most of the 500,000 people forced to flee in California's largest evacuation were expected to be back in their homes by the weekend.
As officials began the massive clean-up and recovery operation, a risk firm said insured losses would likely be US$900 million to US$1.6 billion. Hot, dry winds had whipped up the string of fires but up to three are being treated as arson.
More than 60 people have been injured, many of them firefighters.
As of Friday morning, the wildfires had blackened some 2,072km2 of California and destroyed 2,000 homes and other structures. Losses were expected to top US$1 billion in hard-hit San Diego County alone.
Border Patrol agents on routine patrol found four bodies in a wooded area just east of San Diego and along the Mexican border, agency spokeswoman Gloria Chavez said. The area is near a major corridor for illegal immigrants who often walk hours or even days to cross into the US from Mexico.
Authorities said they found the bodies on Thursday afternoon, but did not know how long ago the victims died.