CAROLINA FOREST, SC (WMBF) - Families who lost everything in the Carolina Forest started trickling back into Windsor Green Wednesday morning.
Many victims say they've seen the footage on the news over the last few days, but seeing it up close and personal was a heartbreaking experience.
Mary London called Windsor Green home for seven years. The building she lived in was one of 24 Saturday's fire turned to ashes. London returned on Wednesday to see the damage for herself.
"I didn't know it was to this extent," she said.
On Saturday she was returning home from an afternoon of shopping when she saw the smoke.
"I thought it was at the outlet," explained London.
By the time she drove closer to Windsor Green, she could see the flames.
"I saw fire. It was bad. It was really bad," recalls London.
She says fire rescue kept everyone far away from the scene. Even after the fire was out, she says for hours she had no idea how bad the damage really was. It wasn't until 7 p.m. that night a fellow choir member broke the devastating news.
"It's gone. That's when I found out I lost everything," she said.
London says the last few days have been a whirlwind. While she is thankful because her daughter and dog were inside the apartment and they barely escaped the fire, she says her heart is also crushed because the other family pet did not.
"The cat runs in the room, under the bed. So she couldn't get the cat. So the cat perished in the fire."
London knew returning to see what the fire left behind would be tough.
"I know this is reality," she said. "So I have to accept reality. It's a fact and I'm looking at it."
She said the fire took things she cannot replace: her cat, and the comfort of her home. London doesn't expect to find anything she values in the rubble. Like London, dozens of families who lost their home in fire face a long road ahead. Seeing the aftermath on Wednesday is one of many difficult hurdles London says she will overcome.
"I'm doing everything to try to stay strong you know," she said. "I just got to be strong."
Meanwhile, Rebecca Maier was also sifting through the rubble Wednesday. Maier is a third-grade teacher at Carolina Forest Elementary School. She lived in Windsor Green for nine years.
"I basically had my whole life down here," Maier said.
Maier spent the day searching for her grandmother's wedding and engagement rings, a family heirloom.
Maier's roommate at Windsor Green for nearly five years, Danielle Lowe was also searching for a special ring. She said if she can find that ring, she might be able to find some peace with this tragedy.
"If I can find that ring, I feel like I could let a lot of things go," Lowe said.