CLAYTON, Calif. (KTVU) - The hills cooled and the crisis eased outside Clayton Thursday, with residents returning home after the Marsh Fire.
Officially, CalFire still had about a dozen households on Aspera Drive under evacuation, mostly due to power issues, but many residents had talked their way in by evening.
"The firefighters said 'enjoy your pink pool,' laughed Kathy Neubecker, finding her home intact, but reeking of smoke and covered with fire retardant. "Pink is my favorite color, so I'm good!"
The Marsh Fire, east of Mt. Diablo, is at 75 percent containment, stopped at 247 acres.
When it blew up Wednesday afternoon, it doubled in size several times, and destroyed one house on Aspera Drive, before bulldozers or air drops could save it.
"There's nothing left and when I walked up there today to look, it was like 'Oh my God', " said neighbor Andy Keene, "because I know how much work they put into that place after they bought it, and they're really neat people."
Keene is retired and was at home when the fire broke out. He never left, staying behind to help protect Aspera Drive..
"I could see the hillside was on fire, and it was coming this way," Keene told KTVU, showing a neighbor's backyard fence, where he had valiantly tried to turn back flames with a garden hose.
Then a rescuer appeared.
"Out of nowhere, came a D-9 caterpillar which knocked the fence down and cut a firebreak," marveled Keene," and stopped the fire right there, about that three feet from the deck, otherwise it all would have been gone."
Above the house that burned, an 8-acre property suffered significant infrastructure damage, but the house was saved by a ferocious air attack.
"Honestly I think this is going to take nine months to more than a year to clean this up," said David Sondergeld, surveying broken and burnt gates, pumps, a well, and electrical equipment. He's also worried about losing trees from the slopes and erosion in winter. And he anticipates insurance hassles.
"They start off great, start off saying they'll help you with everything and then they question everything," said Sondergeld.
He and wife Kit have checked in with the family whose home was lost.
"He texted me back and said they're all okay and thanks for the wishes," said Sondergeld. "He said they all got out when the fire was three feet from their house."
With improving conditions, CalFire was able to call of the air attack on Thursday and focus on hot spots inside the fire's perimeter.
Friday, Aspera Drive is expected to get the all-clear.
"On a scale of one to ten, the stress was eleven," said Kathy Neubecker, "but it was also good because you knew what was important."
Neubecker was so worried about her home and her maltipoo Molly, she slept in her car near the roadblock.
Throughout the ordeal, she relied on neighbor Keene, for updates and welfare checks on Molly. Thursday evening, she knocked on Keene's door with heartfelt appreciation and a hug.
"Thank you so much for the peace of mind you gave us," she told Keene, who shrugged it off modestly.
"We knew that Andy was going to man the fire and work so hard with the firefighters," Neubecker told KTVU, "and we're blessed that this amazing man is our neighbor."