As the stubborn Cocos Fire crept into neighborhoods and destroyed homes in its path, residents gathered their belongings and evacuated their streets, full of concern over what might happen to their homes.
“I literally had 10 minutes and an officer came by and said, ‘You have to be out, now,’” said Alessandra Deernick, a San Marcos resident forced to evacuate as the fire crept over a ridge right above her home.
Deernick said she and her family grabbed priceless pictures as they hurried to leave, realizing those photos are priceless snapshots of their lives.
Likewise, San Elijo evacuee Suzanne Beyerlein also packed up family keepsakes, including items from when her kids were babies.
“These are their first toys, their first letters,” said Beyerlein, sifting through a plastic box packed tightly into the trunk of her car.
For Beyerlein, the evacuation order in her neighborhood was lifted Friday and she was able to return home and unpack her belongings. Beyerlein was away from home for two days, with little information about the fate of her house.
“It was hard being away and not knowing what was happening,” said Beyerlein.
Beyerlein said her worst fear as she drove away from her neighborhood was the thought of losing her house. Still, she had her most precious belongings in tow.
“At the same time you’re thinking, ‘My family is with me, everybody is safe, all my friends are out.’ That’s all that matters.”
Meanwhile, another resident recalled how his wife saved their pet cat as the flames got closer to their home.
“My wife came in that night, when the fire was already he,” he recalled, fighting back tears. “My neighbor sent a picture and the fire was already to the door and she still went in. I’m glad. Ultimately, it probably would’ve been okay, but for her to risk her life to do it…”
Altogether, what sparked Wednesday as a small brush fire on a hillside behind Cal State University San Marcos exploded into a 2,520-acre wildfire that reduced homes to rubble and forced thousands to evacuate.
Though the damage is still under assessment, by Thursday night, the county confirmed that at least 11 single-family homes, along with 25 structures at the Harmony Grove Spiritualist Association were destroyed in the blaze.
By Saturday morning – with more favorable weather conditions in San Diego County – the Cocos Fire appeared to pose much less of a threat than in days prior.
As of 9:30 a.m., Cal Fire officials said it was 70 percent contained, with full containment expected by Sunday. At this point, officials said the fire activity is "limited to smoldering areas within the perimeter."
Though some evacuated residents have been allowed to return home, other evacuation orders remain in place. This includes Questhaven south of Elfin Forest through Harmony Grove and the area east of Twin Oaks Valley Road along Barham Drive and south into the Coronado Hills community.
Also still closed as of Saturday morning are the communities of Hidden Hills and Live Oak. Country Club Road from Hill Valley to Harmony Grove Road and Kauana Loa to Harmony Grove. Harmony Grove will remain closed at Country Club Drive.
Officials said the shelter at Mission Hills High School at 1 Mission Hills Court in San Marcos remains open to serve evacuees.
For those who were allowed to return home, including Deernick, much of the worry has subsided.
“It’s wonderful, knowing that you’re safe and knowing [your house] is still here,” she added.