Brendan Weber

Wildfire Evacuees Return to Rubble, Destroyed Homes

The wildfire burning through Santa Rosa has charred more than 35,000 acres, wiping out home after home in its path.

"You can’t explain and you can’t tell somebody what it’s like to go through this," said Jan Amarillas, who lost her home in the fire.

"You have to really experience it to feel the full impact of what it does," she said tearfully.

Her home of 30 years was almost instantly transformed into twisted metal and piles of rubble. Friday was the first time she returned to her property since evacuating early Monday morning.

"By the time I pulled out, the flames were already eating the garage," she said. "It was like an oven."

At the time, Amarillas questioned whether she would even make it out alive.

"I didn’t know it was going to come in that fast," she said.  "There was no time to do anything."

She escaped with her life, but not much else.

"It’s scary," she said. "I’m 60 years old and suddenly I’m without my home that I’ve had for 30 years."

In nearby Napa, mountainsides look like volcanoes — spewing smoke and uncertainty.

Fred Sanger is about to get a first look at his home since fleeing Sunday night.

His neighborhood has been spared so far. He and his wife waited for about an hour Friday afternoon to get a police escort back into the fire zone. Sanger is battling prostate cancer and needed his chemo medication.

"That’s why we’re are going back up to get some pills," he said. "Houses burn down and people lose their stuff, but as long as you don’t lose your lives, people can rebuild."

Jan Amarilles never thought she’d be homeless at 60. She’s staying with family nearby, but isn’t sure when or if she’ll ever call this place home, again.

"We all have to start over sometime," she said. "I have the chance because I’m alive."

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