Fred Griffin stayed in his home and prayed as neighbors fled from a giant wildfire inching closer to the wooded subdivision where he owns a cabin. He wept when the rain finally came.

"It was looking pretty bad out here. I was getting scared," Griffin said when the sky opened up.Thunderstorms doused the Plantation Pines neighborhood and dropped the sweltering 96-degree heat by about 20 degrees Thursday. But the rain had no visible effect on efforts to control the blaze.

Some residents, including Griffin, defied a mandatory evacuation order to stay and try to save their homes west of Ormond Beach. And though flames still threatened, many were allowed back into their homes by nighttime.

Rain was desperately needed across the drought-stricken state, which has been baking in a heat wave that has stretched from Texas to Georgia for days. Florida's tinderbox conditions have fueled more than 1,000 blazes statewide, with 158,000 acres charred since Memorial Day.

The state's worst wildfires since 1932 already have destroyed more than 100 homes and buildings. In Florida, as across the Southeast, crops have withered in the searing heat; the damage is already $100 million.