Residents survey charred wreckage of their homes after wildfires that have torn through California abate

Distraught and bemused, LA resident Mirian Villareal steps through the charred wreckage of what was once her home.

Residents in the northwestern suburbs of Los Angeles began to return to their homes today as the wildfires that have savaged California began to abate this morning.

A respite in winds allowed firefighters to beat back flames that continued to whirl dangerously close to homes.

The last evacuation orders for two big fire areas at opposite ends of the valley were lifted today, though some locations were only open to residents.

Los Angeles

Mariam Villarreal, 65, views what remains of her former Los Angeles home.

The winds that helped spread the flames slackened though temperatures were rising and the largest fire, which has consumed more than 20 square miles near Porter Ranch, remained only 20 percent contained.

Fire chief Scott Poster said there were places where no fire lines had been established "so if the wind hits it, it could move."

Helicopters and air tankers were still attacking the flames. Fire officials said there were about 3,000 homes in the vicinity, and though some areas of the fire appeared to be extinguished, firefighters were digging into debris to make sure nothing was still burning.

Around 1,200 residents have been evacuated from two canyons in the path of the fire some of the area's 450 homes and moved south-east towards the city.

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A satellite image of the smoke from the fires raging near Los Angeles as firefighters struggled to contain the deadly blaze

Prison inmates

Prison inmates try to build a a fire break as the wildfire continues to threaten homes at the top of Louise Avenue in Los Angeles' Granada Hills area

Enlarge   Charred hills

Charred hills can be seen in the distance as firefighters work to contain a wildfire which threatens homes near LA

At least 50 buildings, including 30 gutted mobile homes, have been damaged or destroyed in the fire, forcing hundreds to evacuate.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in the Los Angeles and Ventura counties and placed additional state resources at the disposal of local fire departments.

Frank Garrido, Los Angeles County fire inspector, said: 'It is a blowtorch we can't get in front of.'

A helicopter

A helicopter makes a water drop on the wildfires just north of LA

Traffic backs up on a freeway as residents flee the flames

Traffic backs up on a freeway as residents flee the flames

LA fires

In scenes reminiscent of a disaster movie, a truck's trailer burns after fire swept towards LA

A homeless man was found dead in a makeshift shelter beneath a highway overpass swept by flames.

Another man was also killed in a four-car crash on the 118 Freeway as police scrambled to shut the road.

Animals from a nearby wildlife sanctuary were also moved to safety.

Los Angeles wildfires

A lorry and a car are destroyed as two wildfires driven by strong winds tear through valleys near Los Angeles

LA wildfires

The fierce blaze has destroyed at least 50 buildings, many of them mobile homes

Rita Yates, 69, who lives alone and was ordered out of her mobile home by firefighters, said: 'I didn't get to take anything with me, other than the clothes on my back.'

Another evacuee, Glenn Bell,50, said he and another park resident had to break a padlock on an emergency exit gate to escape the fire.

He said: 'If we hadn't broke open that gate, there would be dead people up there.'

The fire continue to burn helped by the famous Santa Ana that winds blow in from the desert at this time of year - they are forecast to continue into Wednesday

The fire continue to burn helped by the famous Santa Ana winds that blow in from the desert at this time of year - they are forecast to continue into Wednesday

LA fires

Plumes of smoke drift over a freeway near Los Angeles as the fires destroy thousands of acres of woodland

Olive View-UCLA Medical Centre was forced to move its more fragile patients to other hospitals.

The dry and warm Santa Ana winds typically blow between October and February. As they whistle through Southern California canyons they accelerate, drying out vegetation and speeding up the spread of any fires.

The Red Cross has said around 500 people have registered at an evacuation centre at San Fernando High School. Most schools were closed on Monday.

LA fires

Homeowners rush to get some of the possessions into their cars as the flames approach residential areas

The twin blazes marked the first major wildfire outbreak in Southern California since 30 raged across the region last October, killing at least 12 people, forcing record evacuations of more than 500,000 people and destroying or damaging some 2,000 homes.

The fires prompted authorities to shut down a freeway and several other roads, along with about 10 public schools and a college campus in the area.

A commuter rail line was also shut down because of poor visibility due to ash and smoke.

A third fire also broke out on Monday on the sprawling U.S. Marine base of Camp Pendleton, 80 miles south of Los Angeles, forcing officials to evacuate thousands from base housing.

About 3,000 acres burned, and the fire was about 25 percent contained early on Tuesday.