NEAR NAPLES, Fla. (WSVN) – Fire crews in Naples are locked in a wildfire battle that has left at least two families burned out of their homes.
A massive fire took over a community, and residents came home to find their homes destroyed.
“I thought my house was going to be gone, man, I really did,” said one resident.
The wildfire was brought down to 900 acres as of Sunday afternoon.
The massive blaze reached up to 1,500 acres at its peak Sunday morning.
Officials said the fire is about 75% contained, Monday afternoon.
Cellphone video captured flames near a road as Kristi Tilman and her 2-year-old son drove away from their home.
“I had no idea if my tires were going to pop, so I just warned him, ‘It’s going to be hot,'” she said, “and sure enough, it was hot.”
They were able to narrowly escape the flames.
“It was only hot for five seconds, and then we were past that,” said Tilman, “but it’s definitely nerve-racking. You don’t want to experience anything like that, especially for your son to experience something like that.”
Despite the rapid progress, officials said it has been difficult work to extinguish the fire.
“When there’s traffic in an area where you have multiple units working to respond to a fire, it becomes one other obstacle that they need to navigate in order to most effectively and efficiently contain and put down the blaze,” said Melinda Avni with Florida Forest Service.
For some time, Tilman said, the smoke prevented her from seeing the road clearly.
“I wasn’t sure how far in front of my face I could see, so I ended up turning on my brakes and just going really slowly, and hoping that anybody that’s driving through that has their lights on and I’m going to be able to see them,” she said. “It’s worse than any rainstorm I’ve ever driven in.”
Nervous about the potential damage and not knowing what they’ll come home to, Tilman said she and her family grabbed what they could in a moment’s time.
Other residents found themselves in the same situation.
“I thought my house was going to be gone, man. I really did,” said a resident.
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office lifted evacuation orders in the area on Sunday and homeowners returned to their homes.
Two homes looked intact from the outside, but the inside was destroyed by the blaze.
“The fire rolled into the eves, caused this much damage, and then it rolled into my daughter’s room, which is a complete devastation,” said homeowner Jonathan Perez.
Perez and his wife Tracy returned to their home on Sunday to find everything in their home, except the structure, destroyed.
“You can tell everything here is pretty much — it’s charred,” Jonathan said. “As you can tell, it’s smoke damage everywhere.”
“My 14-year-old has nothing left, nothing. Every memoir, everything … sorry,” Tracy said as she fought back tears.
They said they don’t know what their next step will be, but cleaning up is all they can do now.
“It’s beyond surreal,” said Tracy. “I don’t know a word for it. Everything is supposed to happen for a reason, but I have no idea what God’s reason would be for this.”
The Perez family said Collier County officials are helping them find a temporary home.
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