Residents head back into California town leveled by wildfire

In this photo taken Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 Jennifer Christensen sorts through items found in a safe at the remains of her home in Paradise, Calif. Ch

In this photo taken Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 Jennifer Christensen sorts through items found in a safe at the remains of her home in Paradise, Calif. Ch

Jennifer Christensen sorts through items found in a safe at the remains of her home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. Christensen and her 2

Jennifer Christensen sorts through items found in a safe at the remains of her home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. Christensen and her 2

Jennifer Christensen holds remnants of porcelain dolls that her mother gave her every Christmas that she found in the remains of her home destroyed by

Jennifer Christensen holds remnants of porcelain dolls that her mother gave her every Christmas that she found in the remains of her home destroyed by

Resident Omar Franklin returns to his home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Hundreds of residents were finally

Resident Omar Franklin returns to his home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Hundreds of residents were finally

Returning resident Frank Windt checks his home that was burned in the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Hundreds of residents we

Returning resident Frank Windt checks his home that was burned in the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Hundreds of residents we

Resident Linda Matthews returns to her home destroyed in the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Hundreds of residents were finall

Resident Linda Matthews returns to her home destroyed in the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Hundreds of residents were finall

Jerry McLean, wearing a hazmat suit, looks over tools he found in a burned shed at his home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise Calif. Some residents

Jerry McLean, wearing a hazmat suit, looks over tools he found in a burned shed at his home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise Calif. Some residents

Joyce McLean, wearing a hazmat suit, looks through the remains of her home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise Calif. Some residents of a California

Joyce McLean, wearing a hazmat suit, looks through the remains of her home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise Calif. Some residents of a California

A bed rests outside Cypress Meadows Post-Acute, a nursing home leveled by the Camp Fire, on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah

A bed rests outside Cypress Meadows Post-Acute, a nursing home leveled by the Camp Fire, on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah

Scorched wheelchairs rest outside Cypress Meadows Post-Acute, a nursing home leveled by the Camp Fire, on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (

Scorched wheelchairs rest outside Cypress Meadows Post-Acute, a nursing home leveled by the Camp Fire, on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (

Scorched wheelchairs rest outside Cypress Meadows Post-Acute, a nursing home leveled by the Camp Fire, on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (

Scorched wheelchairs rest outside Cypress Meadows Post-Acute, a nursing home leveled by the Camp Fire, on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (

Jerry and Joyce McLean, wearing hazmat suits, look for sentimental items sifting through the remains of their home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradis

Jerry and Joyce McLean, wearing hazmat suits, look for sentimental items sifting through the remains of their home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradis

A flag flies amidst the remains of Jerry and Joyce McLean's home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise Calif. Some residents of a California town devas

A flag flies amidst the remains of Jerry and Joyce McLean's home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise Calif. Some residents of a California town devas

Jerry McLean, wearing a hazmat suit, looks over his father's vice grip that he found in the remains of his home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise C

Jerry McLean, wearing a hazmat suit, looks over his father's vice grip that he found in the remains of his home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise C

Following the Camp Fire, a patio umbrella stands among the wreckage of a Magalia, Calif., home on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Following the Camp Fire, a patio umbrella stands among the wreckage of a Magalia, Calif., home on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Following the Camp Fire, Jedediah Welch helps his friend Sara Sullivan, left, search for belongings at her Magalia, Calif., home on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2

Following the Camp Fire, Jedediah Welch helps his friend Sara Sullivan, left, search for belongings at her Magalia, Calif., home on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2

Jean Uno searches for heirlooms at her parent's Magalia, Calif., home, destroyed by the Camp Fire, on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. Uno also lost her home in

Jean Uno searches for heirlooms at her parent's Magalia, Calif., home, destroyed by the Camp Fire, on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. Uno also lost her home in

A chair rests outside Cypress Meadows Post-Acute, a nursing home leveled by the Camp Fire, on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/Noa

A chair rests outside Cypress Meadows Post-Acute, a nursing home leveled by the Camp Fire, on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/Noa

Jerry McLean, wearing a hazmat suit, holds out some old coins that he found in the remains of his home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise Calif. Som

Jerry McLean, wearing a hazmat suit, holds out some old coins that he found in the remains of his home Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise Calif. Som

PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — Nearly four weeks after the devastating blaze leveled her town, Jennifer Christensen was allowed back to return to her home in Paradise, where the first thing she saw was her son's charred tricycle in the front yard.

Christensen was among hundreds of residents who were allowed back into neighborhoods on the east side of town for the first time since the Nov. 8 blaze, which killed at least 85 people and destroyed about 14,000 homes.

"It's unbelievable. You know, I never thought it would happen to me," said Christensen, 34, surveying how little was left. She had moved to Paradise about a year ago and lived with a couple that were like grandparents to her son. "Everything I worked so hard for is gone."

The first thing she saw as she pulled in was her 2-year-old son's tricycle, its tires melted and its steel frame charred. She found a safe with melted jewelry inside. She found remnants of porcelain dolls that her mom had given her every year for Christmas.

"I lost my kid's handprints and footprints from when he was born," she said. "This is all stuff that can't be replaced."

Some residents have been allowed back into nearby communities in the fire zone, but Wednesday marked the first time residents of Paradise got to see firsthand what was left of their town of 27,000 people, which was hit the hardest by the blaze.

Paradise Police Chief Eric Reinbold said that areas home to 4,700 people were reopened but it wasn't clear how many people were there. Many survivors have scattered to homes of friends and family in other parts of California.

More than 50,000 people in Paradise and the neighboring communities of Magalia and Concow were forced to quickly flee the towering, wind-driven flames that charred an area about the size of Chicago — 240 square miles (622 square kilometers) — and became the deadliest U.S. wildfire in at least a century. Authorities said 10 people were still unaccounted for.

Earlier in the day, a long line of cars waited in a cold drizzle at a checkpoint to enter areas where evacuation orders had been lifted.

Crews in yellow slickers were still clearing debris from burned homes and removing trees from streets littered with melted plastic trash cans and hollowed vehicles on tireless rims.

The communities will have very limited services for the immediate future, and authorities urged returning residents to bring food, water and fuel for vehicles.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman Dennis MacAleese said the utility has 4,000 people in the area working to restore electric and gas service to those who can receive it. He said the utility hopes to restore electrical service by the end of the month and gas by the first quarter of next year.

Residents returning Wednesday were given kits with gloves and hazmat suits and warned that they should not move back into homes until ash and hazardous waste have been cleared, and that rain could increase the risk of flash floods and mudslides.

Rebecca Rogers of Chico came to support Christensen, a friend, as she sifted through the remains of her belongings.

Rogers believes she found the remains of Christensen's cat, Marble, under what used to be her friend's bed.

"I don't want her to look. It's just too much, it's just too much," Rogers said, sobbing. "I've got to be strong. I've got to do this for her."

Rogers buried the cat's remains in the front yard.

Residents were warned they should not move back into homes until ash and hazardous waste have been cleared, and that rain could increase the risk of flash floods and mudslides.

Christensen said she is not sure of her future plans but feels so much loyalty for her town that recently she got a tattoo that reads, "Love is thicker than smoke," and below that on her arm: "Paradise Strong."

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Rodriguez reported from San Francisco.