NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – While there are evacuations still in place because of the Hermits Peak, Calf Canyon Fire, some residents of Mora County are returning back to their homes. Many of them are coming back to find scenery they no longer recognize.

These fires have torn through many areas and left devastation in their wake. For people like Gabriel Garcia—who had to leave his home weeks ago—it’s heartbreaking to see the land scarred like this.

“It’s just shock. It’s like speechless, I don’t know what to say. It’s weird, scary. At least we all survived and, our homes are standing we’re still here…and we’ll get together we’ll get through this, we’ll get through this,” Garcia says.

The fires forced Gabriel to stay in a shelter in Taos for two weeks. He says he stayed for as long as he could in Mora — until they could see flames cresting on the hillside — and he feared for his homes and his belongings when he left.

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Now, Garcia and community members in Mora are returning to scenes of charred forests and homes burned to the ground. This landscape is one Garcia fondly remembers growing up in — now, reduced in some places to ash.

“It’s just sad. It will never be the same. [It will] take for a long time—generations grew up back here. Now it’s destroyed, just from simple flame,” Garcia says. When asked what the area used to look like: “It was beautiful, luscious, animals would be in here. You would see deer everywhere…now who knows where they’re at. This was their home too; this was their home. Now, no more. Now it’s ash.”

Garcia’s home survived. He says the fire got within a mile of it. He says the area now has contaminated drinking water and many who relied on the forests for work—like his uncle who works in the logging industry—are now faced with difficult times ahead.

As of Thursday morning, FEMA reports 348 homes are destroyed, 13 have suffered damage, and more than 16,000 are still considered threatened. Fire officials continue to urge residents of San Miguel, Mora, Taos, and Colfax Counties to remain on high alert as the Red Flag Warning remains in effect.