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Wildfire Knocks Out Power; 74 Homes Destroyed

PARADISE, Calif. -- While milder-than-expected weather helped fire crews tamp down a series of Northern California wildfires Sunday, a persistent blaze in Paradise knocked out power as residents were returning to survey the damage.

So far, at least 74 homes have been destroyed and 20 more damaged in Paradise, about 90 miles north of Sacramento.

As evacuees re-entered the area Sunday, the last line providing electricity to the town went down, said Gregg Fishman, spokesman for the California Independent System Operator, which runs the power grid for most of the state. The outage affects 18,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers, said Brandi Ehlers, G&E spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, firefighters were spending another dry, windy day cutting fire lines to halt the blaze, which has scorched about 36 square miles, said Scott Upton, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The wildfire was 50 percent contained Sunday morning after a blustery couple of days, and Upton said crews expected to have it fully surrounded by today.

More than one-fourth of Paradise residents are over 65. Many had to be moved in buses because they don't drive, while those who were bedridden or in wheelchairs were moved in vans or ambulances. One woman died after suffering a heart attack while being evacuated.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation.

In Santa Cruz County, firefighters got a handle on a wildfire that has burned at least three homes and eight other buildings in the Bonny Doon community. Some roads remained closed Sunday morning as fire officials reported the blaze 90 percent contained.

Authorities late Saturday released a sketch of a man sought for questioning about the fire. Officials would not say whether he was suspected of starting the blaze Wednesday.

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