Kincade Fire evacuees return home, some to devastation

With evacuations lifted from the Kincade Fire, it was a happy homecoming for most, but heartache for the owners of at least 133 homes that were destroyed.

The ordeal is just beginning for those who feel wiped out. 

"It was 5,000-square feet and two bedrooms, and there was the master bedroom," said Ken Schmidt-Petersen, showing KTVU the rubble of his family home high on Faught Road, east of Windsor, for the first time on Wednesday. "I did as much as I could do to prevent it from coming up here but the wind was blowing so hard."

For four days, Schmidt-Petersen used everything he had to clear and soak the property. Then he left his shovels, hoses, ladder and chainsaw visible in case they could be helpful to firefighters.

But as far as he knows, an engine never came.

On Sunday, the fire did, roaring in from Alexander Valley in the north.    

Schmidt-Petersen shot video of the approaching flames, a bright orange blur, as he drove away for the last time. Not long after, a distant neighbor captured video of the house ablaze. 

"And he said I would have died if I had stayed up here," said Schmidt-Petersen. 

With the advance time he had, he is glad to save cherished possessions, from the home his late father designed 30 years ago. 

"I still feel like what could I have done, you know, like I could have done more," said Schmidt-Petersen sadly. 

In the burn zones, fire crews are still looking for smoldering spots that could cause trouble. 

The Kincade Fire hopscotched, as fires often do, skipping one house, but leveling another nearby. 

"Random, so random, so we feel blessed and lucky to come home to our house," said Les Perry, another resident of Faught Road. 

Perry and his wife were unpacking their cars, after five days of uncertainty, staying with friends. 

"Getting back to see it was pretty emotional," said Perry, "along with waking up this morning and realizing nothing bad happened overnight and we are out of danger." 

In the foothills neighborhood of Windsor, many residents return to visible clues of a close call: flattened fences and patios blackened and in disarray.

The backyards were trampled by firefighters, who beat back flames that raced through Foothills Regional Park and came close to invading the subdivision. 
"We came close to becoming a Coffey Park," said resident Anna Van Loon, referring to the Santa Rosa neighborhood decimated by the Tubbs Fire two years ago. 

Van Loon held a sign thanking fire crews for making the dramatic stop.   

"My refrigerator is a toxic waste dump but I'm lucky to have a fridge and a home, so I'll take the mess to have my house," she said. 

Many of the fire zones still have restricted access due to hazards, so residents must show identification to drive in. 

Schmidt-Petersen spent time poking around the ash, and retrieving a few scorched ceramic pieces from what was the fireplace mantle. 

He remembers driving away, wishing he hadn't left two dirty dishes in the sink, and smiles at how insignificant that is now. 

"It's crazy, just an incredibly empty feeling," said Schmidt-Peterson, who has every intention to rebuild on his family's 25-acre parcel. 

His mother is 93 and wants to return to the serenity and beautiful views she loved, in a home he and hid dad built together. 

The household was evacuated, but spared, in the 2017 firestorm, but has friends who lost homes then. 

Even so, there is no preparing for such a loss when it happens to you. 

"It seems like you want to go home, and go to bed," said Schmidt-Petersen," and it's like a dream, it's unreal."