Cal Fire lifts some evacuation orders for Valley Fire evacuees

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As evacuation orders are lifted and some residents get ready to return home, school officials are preparing to reopen soon in the hopes that they can give their community some sense of normalcy. (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)

Many Valley Fire evacuees who are anxious to return home got some good news Friday night -- Cal Fire announced that they're lifting some evacuation orders. Residents in Middletown will be able to return home Saturday at noon. Evacuation orders have also been lifted for Twin Lakes and Rancho Sendero in Lake County, and road blocks at Murphy Springs Road and Spruce Grove roads came down Friday night.

This all comes as the fire continues to burn. It's now spread to 73,700 acres and is 45 percent contained. A public health emergency has been declared in Lake County because of all the large animals that have perished in the fire.

On Friday officials announced that a man caught driving an SUV stolen from an evacuation area in Lower Lake Thursday night has been arrested for looting. Officials say 25-year-old Jeremiah McGinnis admitted to spray painting the vehicle so it would look like a police car.

Three other men were also arrested earlier this week on suspicion of stealing from evacuee homes.

DONATIONS: How to help victims of the Valley Fire where you live

In the meantime, schools in the area are preparing to get back to normal. Or, as best they can. Middletown Superintendent Catherine Stone tells ABC7 News that the schools look pretty good but she estimates about 400 of their 1,500 students have lost their homes. That's why she is preparing to reopen her schools to give these kids the softest landing possible.

Though they are dusty and smoky, Middletown officials are preparing to reopen their schools to give their community some sense of normalcy.

"I don't know how, it was miracle," said Stone. "All of our campuses are intact. We have a lot of smoke damage and soot and ash that we have to clean out."

The Middletown School District did have one school destroyed by the fire -- the Loconoma Continuation School housed in a portable is a total loss. So is an equipment shed. All that's left are some of the metal face masks for the Middletown high football team.

Once the dust and smoke are cleaned up, the superintendent expects Middletown High School and the other schools should be ready to reopen next Thursday.

There is one exception, however. Cobb Mountain Elementary School was right in the middle of one of the hardest hit areas it looks okay from the outside, but smoke damage inside likely means it won't reopen for a couple of months.

"We have no idea at this point how many of the displaced students will be able to return and that they'll have a place to live when they come back," Lake County Superintendent Brock Falkenberg.

Stone added, "We hope to provide a safe, warm nurturing environment for them when they come back; something that they're used to for six hours a day so that they're feeling secure again."

So there will be no school in the fire area until next Thursday at the earliest.

VIDEO: Middletown High School football team eager to get back on field
RESOURCES: Valley Fire evacuation centers, school closure information

One school in the fire area did reopen on Friday. Students at Pope Valley Union Elementary in Napa County were back in class for the first time since the evacuations. Principal Ken Burkhart felt strongly about reopening the school, even on a Friday. Attendance was voluntary.

"It's important for the students to know that life will return to normal," he said.

Another person said, "The ones that were there seemed really pleased to get on the bus and get back to living their life i guess."

Only about half of the students showed up for class on Friday. The principal is hoping all 52 students will be back on Monday.

Parents, in the meantime, have been working with various organizations to keep their kids busy. There are trips planned to the Exploratorium, the San Francisco Zoo, and an Oakland Athletics game, among others. Evacuees interested in attending are asked to contact Katie Glattfelder at (707) 978-1560 or Gwendolyn Maupin-Ahern at (707) 350-2484.

Click here for full coverage on the Valley Fire.

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PHOTOS: Crews battle massive Valley Fire

PHOTOS: ABC7 News reporters at the Valley Fire
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