Neighbors pleased to be alive after fires in unincorporated Santa Rosa

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The morning after a long night of protecting homes near Oakmont. Crews and gear standby. The nightmare is far from over for many in the North Bay after a week of historically bad wildfires. (KGO-TV)

Residents of Larkfield-Wikiup have been returning to their homes after evacuation orders were lifted Sunday night. The subdivision in unincorporated Santa Rosa remained largely intact with the exception of a string of homes on Carriage Lane.

It should be a happy occasion -- families back home after having been under mandatory evacuation orders for a week.

But for many residents, there's an overwhelming sense of guilt. Susan Hemstreet says her house is just like she left it. "It's hard. We're so grateful that our house is okayk, but look out and our neighbor's house is gone," she said.

Her neighbor's house is nothing but a pile of rubble. And it's more of the same devastation farther down the lane.

"It's surreal because there's ash everywhere, but you go inside our house and it's just like we stepped out for the day," Hemstreet added. "You know -- why we were spared, I don't know."

One section of the neighborhood has attracted curious people from all corners of the area.

Valerie Burns lives up the hill and says her house could have easily been wiped out too, but credits her nextdoor neighbor for saving it.

He created a firebreak around their homes.

"He's more than a hero. He's my treasure -- but he's a typical neighbor," Burns told ABC7 News. "Anybody that could do that would have. And he wants no credit for it."

As families try to move forward, one thing is clear. The fire has given many people a new perspective.

"Suddenly work isn't all that important," said Burns. "You know -- just being alive. Yeah it changes you."

PHOTOS: Aftermath of North Bay fires
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The morning after a long night of protecting homes near Oakmont. Crews and gear standby. The nightmare is far from over for many in the North Bay after a week of historically bad wildfires.

Click here for complete coverage of the North Bay fires.

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