PHELAN, Calif. — More people returned to their homes Friday as firefighters made significant progress against a huge wildfire burning in Southern California’s San Bernardino National Forest, but that was tempered by the announcement that at least 96 homes and 213 outbuildings were destroyed.

Johanna Santore was among those left homeless. She was running an errand Tuesday when the fire charged through her neighborhood. She tried to rush home to rescue the family’s four dogs, six cats and hamster but was blocked by closed roads.

Frantic for answers, she posted messages about her pets on Facebook. A group of animal rescue volunteers saw her pleas and offered to check on the animals.

They found the house in smoldering ruins – with no signs of the pets.

“I’m actually feeling numb,” said Santore, who fled with her husband and granddaughter to an evacuation center. “It’s like a nightmare.”

Thousands of residents chased from their mountain and desert homes were slowly beginning to take stock of their losses as the preliminary damage assessment was released for the blaze that erupted Tuesday in drought-parched canyons 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

Firefighters initially struggled to get the towering flames under control but later made dramatic progress in corralling the fire that scorched nearly 58 square miles and was 26 percent contained.

Plans were underway to demobilize some of the nearly 1,600 firefighters.

Fire spokesman Brad Pitassi said crews were in defensive posture until Thursday night when they reached a turning point, aided by a buildup of ground forces and a fast-paced air attack with retardant and water drops.

“That number could have been much higher,” he said of the destroyed homes and buildings, noting that at one point the fire had grown by 30,000 acres in 24 hours.

A prolonged drought has transformed swaths of California into tinderboxes, ready to ignite. Several other wildfires were burning in the state, including a blaze in rural Santa Barbara County that prompted the evacuation of a pair of campgrounds.

At the height of the fire east of Los Angeles, some 82,000 people were under evacuation orders. A small number of residents have been allowed to return home, but fire officials could not say when all the evacuations would be lifted.

Before the fire roared through, Johanna Santore had redecorated her granddaughter’s room in a zebra pattern and added a loft bed.

“We don’t plan on rebuilding,” she said. “We plan on leaving.”