RANCHO BERNARDO, California (CNN) -- It's been heart wrenching for wildfire victims Gordon and Marilyn Wood to return to the charred remains of their cherished home.
Gordon and Marilyn Wood say seeing their home destroyed by fire has been frightening.
Virtually all that's left of their house in the San Diego suburb of Rancho Bernardo is its footprint, strewn with blackened debris and the remnants of a fireplace and chimney. The couple's Mercedes Benz stands parked nearby, not much more than wreckage.
"It's really scary for me to come back here -- even to stand here," Marilyn Wood told CNN on Thursday as she clutched her husband for support.
The couple, who moved to the area a decade ago from Toronto, Canada, turned an emotional corner on Wednesday, when authorities allowed them back home for the first time since Monday, when oncoming flames forced them to flee.
The harrowing homecoming, said Gordon Wood, was "when reality hit."
He said they "tried to not think about it too much, and then yesterday we got an opportunity to come here for 10 minutes -- they wouldn't allow us to touch anything or really go into it." Watch the Woods' emotional return »
"Before that, it was really like survival and getting out of the way of the fire."
Their nightmare began with what may have been a life-saving wake-up call Monday at 4:30 a.m. It was a reverse 911 alert, warning them of the danger. There wasn't time to think.
"The flames were at the house within minutes so we had less than five minutes to get out," said Gordon Wood. "We didn't even have time to put on shoes when we left."
Shoeless, frightened and homeless, the couple looked behind them as they drove away, watching the flames feed off their home -- a sight that has burned a painful memory into Marilyn Wood's brain. "It was burning as we were leaving," she said biting her lips as emotion rose in her voice."
The couple said they're fully insured, but its a relatively small comfort. They said they plan to remain. "We loved our house and our neighbors, so I think, yeah, we'll come back and rebuild," she said. See gripping images of the fire's devastation »
Unlike the Woods, residents were allowed to return permanently on Wednesday to several neighborhoods surrounding San Diego: Del Mar Highlands, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Carmel Valley, Chula Vista and Otay Mesa.
Thousands of people who were displaced by the fires spent nights at dozens of shelters, including San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium. Watch life for a mother and son at a shelter »
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday fires scattered from Los Angeles County to San Diego County have destroyed 1,664 structures, including 1,436 homes, and they still threaten 25,000 more. The blazes have killed three people and left 40 hurt, he said. See where the fires are burning »
The cost of homes destroyed by the wildfires is likely to top $1 billion in San Diego County alone, an emergency official said. E-mail to a friend
CNN's John Roberts contributed to this report.
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