After two weeks of battling the deadly Soberanes fire in Monterey County, 22 Santa Clara County firefighters were back home Monday.
The team worked 24-hour shifts fighting the wildfire that has scorched nearly 61,000 acres near Big Sur.
Firefighter Brett Gainey said the crew often had to hike in about 2 miles, hauling their gear and equipment, to reach the fire lines.
"You can hear my voice is messed up after breathing in smoke for 2 weeks," Gainey said.
Gainey said the danger really hit home when they learned of a bulldozer operator losing his life on the fire lines.
"I would say it's really somber at camp when someone loses their life," he said. "It really affects you."
At the same time, Gainey said, he and his crewmates also were touched by the outpouring of gratitude from the communities they worked so hard to protect.
"Just seeing signs that said "Thank you" on the way to the fire, that was great," he said.
The Soberanes fire was 50 percent Monday, according to Cal Fire. It has destroyed 57 homes and 11 outbuildings, and it is still threatening more than 400 structures.
Late Monday, Highway 1 was closed from Palo Colorado Road to Coast Ridge Road at Ventana Inn. It will reopen at 6 a.m. Tuesday, Cal Fire said.
The fire was caused by an illegal campfire, officials have said.