For the second time in 15 years, an Alpine couple returned to the rubble of what was once their home, destroyed by a fast-moving brush fire in San Diego’s East County.
Both wildfires started similarly -- as small sparks that quickly grew to devastating sizes moving at fast paces towards residential communities.
In the case of Friday’s West Fire, it was Patricia and Ned Holmes’ community – the Alpine Oaks Estates.
"It's really a shame," Patricia Holmes said as she looked at the devastation of her most recent home. "We've only been here about a year and we're still putting it together."
The couple had experienced the feeling before. Their home in East County was destroyed in 2003 by the catastrophic Cedar Fire.
The Cedar Fire destroyed thousands of homes and killed 15 people as it exploded to more than 280,000 acres in San Diego's East County, the largest wildfire in California history until 2017.
On Friday, the couple in their 80s was one of the first to get an evacuation notice from the San Diego Sheriff's Department (SDSO) alerting them to the blaze near Willows Road and Alpine Boulevard.
The wildfire was moving at a critical rate along Interstate 8, giving them just minutes to evacuate.
"I didn't even get my purse. We walked out the door and got in the car and drove away and it was burning when we left," Patricia Holmes said. "That wooden fence was on fire. It was moving so fast we didn't even have time to take it all in."
Patricia and Ned Homes took it in Monday as they stood behind caution tape around their lot of rubble while family members gently sifted through ash for any items that survived.
A skillet that belonged to 89-year-old Ned Holmes’ grandmother was one of the items that remained. So was a semi-charred angel statue.
The statue survived the Cedar Fire, too, Patricia Holmes said.
The couple started on the insurance claim paperwork Monday at an assistance center at the Alpine Library but said they likely won’t see enough money to rebuild.
In the meantime, Ned and Patricia Holmes' future grandson-in-law started a GoFundMe page to help them get back on their feet.
"We'll move along," Patricia Holmes said. "I got so much support from our family and they are all here."
Friday's West Fire destroyed 24 homes and damaged 20 when it sparked at about 11:30 a.m. near Willows Road and Alpine Boulevard.
The fire exploded in size amid a dangerous heat wave that sent temperatures into triple digits and forced the evacuation of most of the Alpine community. All evacuations were lifted Sunday evening.
By Tuesday morning, the 504-acre West Fire was 97 percent contained.