Families sift through the ashes of their homes destroyed by the 117 Fire

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EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KKTV) - The 117 Fire in El Paso County was fully contained Thursday night, but not before completely destroying nearly two dozen homes.

The cause of the destructive blaze remains under investigation. All of the evacuation orders were lifted. Several families returned to their homes on Thursday, now just piles of ash and melted metal.

"They always took pictures of me in front of the fireplace," Wanda Lessenden told 11 News as she stood near her home that was completely destroyed by the fire. "It was probably six months ago we were all here for a funeral, so a bunch of us came out and reminisced and got our pictures taken."

Another homeowner could only stand back and watch as his house went up in flames. He shared video of his home burning, hoping the public would understand how costly this fire really was.

"I just froze, then I could tell that our house was on fire and just the shock of it," Tim Emick explained as he was sifting through his old house.

Emick's home was one of at least 23 lost in the fire. High winds and quick moving flames caught homeowners and firefighters off guard.

"Fireman said there was nothing they could do. It was already burning up in the attic," Emick recalled. "It just happened so fast. Just so unreal, I guess."

Emick brought his wife to see the damage on Wednesday, just a day after their home was lost.

"When we pulled up, it hit her and so we just sat in the pickup and consoled each other," Tim said.

Emick was back at his home on Thursday, hoping to find something that wasn't just ash.

"There was a nativity scene that we found, and we were digging through it and it looks like we found almost every piece but little baby Jesus," Tim stated.

Emick believes an ember caught in the winds, likely starting all the damage.

"I didn't think it would burn," Tim said in reference to his home. "With all the fire mitigation that we've done, how green the grass is. We've been irrigating. It was just a total shock."

Emick said he's very grateful for the firefighters and the work they did battling the flames. He also hopes in the future there could be a partnership between fire crews and ranchers. They often have access to equipment and water hookups on their own properties which could be hard to find without their help.