The massive 4,416-acre Loma Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains has destroyed 12 homes and is 66 percent contained as of Saturday evening, but some folks have been given the green light to return home, Cal Fire said.
Cal Fire hopes to fully contain the blaze by Monday and accounced Saturday that evacuation orders for Croy Road and Sveadal were lifted. Mandatory evacuations in Santa Clara County remain in effect along the Loma Prieta ridgeline area, Uvas Canyon County Park, Loma Chiquita, Casa Loma, and Loma Prieta Way.
In addition to the 12 residences, the Loma Fire has gutted 16 outbuidlings. One house has also been damaged and a firefighter was injured on Thursday, according to Cal Fire.
Antsy residents impacted by the fire met Saturday morning at a community meeting in Morgan Hill to discuss current firefighter tactics and the timetable for when displaced folks could return to their homes.
Jeremy Rahn, Battalion Chief and Public Information Officer for Cal Fire, understands the frustration, but said that fire crews preach a safety first mentality and will only let residents return when the threat of wildfire and subsequent infrastructure issues such as blocked roads and downed power lines are resolved.
"We need to keep people out of the area to allow us to get in there to get services restored and to improve containment before we're going to be able to allow more people to come in," he said.
From tragedy to relief, waves of varying emotions have overcome worried residents since the fire broke out.
Lucie Vogel and her husband Roman Petres were ousted from their home Monday evening and had just enough time to spare the lives of their goats, cats and dogs.
"The few little things that define the thin line of our lives," Vogel said.
The couple was able to return to their property briefly on Thursday and scope out the scene, but not without facing a lot of uncertainty.
"Right off our back porch there were six helicopters," Vogel said. "It looked like a war zone. They were just looping the ridge there. I've never seen anything like it in my life and, I mean, they just worked for hours."
For the next two days, the couple waited anxiously to figure out if their house was still standing or not. Petres wasn't sure that he would ever see his home again.
"That was the toughest moment in my life, knowing this might be the start of a new life," he said. "I hope it won't be, but it may."
Vogel and Petres did not have to start from scratch. They instead shed a smile Saturday after receiving word that they could gather their prized possessions and go home for good.
"I think we held hands and cried," Vogel said.
Upon return, the happy couple settled in, counted their blessings and expressed unending praise to the firefighters that helped saved their abode.
"I just feel like I owe everything to them," Vogel said.
Another homeowner, a volunteer firefighter, said he lost his vineyard but his home was saved. But the same can't be said for many of his neighbors.
"It was an inferno," said David Ward, who owns a home on Loma Chiquita Road. "It looked like bombs were going off and so the only thing you’re thinking is … 'Are we going to make it out of here?'"
Even those who were not required to leave their homes in the San Jose's Almaden Valley feel they're in an at-risk zone — from all the smoke and ash.
Meanwhile, road closures also remain in the area. Non-residents are urged to avoid Ormsby Cutoff, Haven Hill Lane, Pacific Rim, Loma Prieta Way, and Rancho Prieta, Mt. Bachi and Summit roads.
This is the fourth significant wildfire to rock the area in 14 years: The Croy Fire erupted in 2002, the Summit Fire broke out in 2008, and another Loma Fire burned in 2009.
The origin and cause of the Loma Fire remain under investigation. An evacuation center can be found at Morgan Hill Presbyterian Church at 16970 De Witt Avenue.