But standing through it all - 260 homes in the planned community of Cielo, where not one home was even touched by the flames, CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes reports.
"We were pretty confident that we would survive a fire," said Rancho Cielo resident Don Ceglar.
Confident because the entire subdivision was built on the concept called "shelter in place," an Australian idea: to make the home the fortress of safety.
"There's no natural vegetation adjacent to the house," said Clifford Hunter, Sancho Santa Fe fire marshal. "Homes are made of ignition-resistant materials."
Critics of "shelter in place," say it's just another way for builders and home owners to push developments into remote high-fire areas.
In Orange County, development into "very high fire danger" areas has increased 69 percent in the last two decades. In San Diego County, building has gone up 116 percent in these areas.
While building in these remote areas may seem like a beautiful escape - you can't hide from the forces of Mother Nature. And when a wildfire threatens out here, there may be little firefighters can do.
In Riverside County, five firefighters died last year battling to save an unoccupied vacation home, officials are recommending growth restrictions.
"There isn't any reason that we should be developing projects that are going to be allowing two to three hundred homes to be burned down," said Tim Williams, the battalion chief of the Riverside Co. Fire Department.
The restrictions will offer developers incentives to build in less fire-prone areas, require homes to be built closer together to make it easier to protect them and allow the county to buy up land to create buffer zones.
Creating new ways of building homes and new ways of fighting fires - well before the flames ever ignite.