Despite 10 homes lost in Kings Canyon the day before and the Waterfall fire growing by the minute, Mark Carter still thought he'd be able to go home.
But he learned from the evening news on July 15, 2004, his home wasn't there anymore.
Yet after months of grief and shock, an unexpected emotion came about: Liberation.
"I found the whole thing kind of a fascinating process," he said nearly a year later. "It turns out to be very cleansing. It gets rid of all the detritus that builds up in your life and you start over fresh."
Carter and his wife, Linda, plan to rebuild despite inadequate insurance coverage.
"There's no way we'd not rebuild. We love the lot and the location," he said. "We're excited to rebuild the house we had either outgrown or had outgrown us. I think it's a good experience."
Chuck Schardin can relate to Carter's feeling.
When asked about his experience, the story poured out. Schardin recalls in detail collecting his dogs from his Timberline Drive home and evacuating to a downtown motel, only to be told hours later he could return.
That first night of the fire, Schardin didn't sleep.
"I stayed up all night watching it. I felt very comfortable it was moving away," he said.
So comfortable, in fact, the following morning the state employee went about his chores, mowing his lawn and cleaning his pond. About noon, he lay down for a nap.
Hours later he was awakened by the rumble of a fire truck backing into his driveway.
"They said the winds had changed and the fire was coming this way."
On the advice of firefighters, Schardin put on long pants and good shoes. He left the house unlocked in case anyone had to retreat inside. The air was filled with smoke, and an orange hue hung over the canyon.
"Then we saw the fire come over the ridge," he said. "They told me it was best to go now, because in a little while it's going to be so smoky and I might not be able to start my car."
Schardin did just that, finding his neighbors gathered and panicked in the old Kmart parking lot. When he became hungry, he wandered over to Bully's for a bite to eat. Sitting in front of one of the sports bar's television sets, Schardin caught a sight that made him sick to his stomach.
"I saw my house burning on the screen," he said.
His wife, Karen, in New York on business, immediately flew home.
The following day Schardin picked up his wife from the airport and drove to the ruins of their home - the place that had held 10 years of memories and a lifetime of possessions.
"It was devastating," he recalled. "Because we'd survived the first night, I was fully expecting to go back the next night. But that wasn't the outcome."
Months later when the shock subsided, Schardin also experienced a sense of relief.
"You had all this stuff. Now it's gone. I was telling someone the other day, you have three or four tools that you've accumulated, but now you only have to buy one because you know which one works best. You've already bought them all."
The Schardin home is nearly rebuilt. The family hopes to move back in September.
Randy Carlson's home will be finished Aug. 1.
He and his daughter Amanda, 20, designed it the day they saw there was nothing left of their old house.
"We came up and saw the house, then drew plans over lunch," Amanda said.
Both admit they weren't particularly attached to the house. Sure, they'd lived in it for two decades - Amanda for most of her life - but it was not irreplaceable. The stuff inside didn't matter much either, they agreed.
"We did our two minutes of mourning and then started to rebuild," she said.
"You know, I was always afraid to move because I had so much stuff," Randy Carlson said with a laugh. "I solved that in one day."
n Contact reporter F.T. Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1213.