Cars and trucks began rolling into town Friday as weary but jubilant residents returned to smoky homes and firefighters kept a wildfire a safe distance away.
"WELCOME HOME," read a sign held by two volunteers who had answered calls from worried residents forced to leave their homes Tuesday as the fires crept close."We're very lucky that a fire of that much devastation could come through and everybody's OK," said volunteer Gail Roberts.
Wildfires burned more than 8,000 acres of commercial timberland west of here in four days. But they were weakened by an overnight rain and contained Friday beyond plowed firebreaks. A light smell of smoke remained in the city.
Many of Waldo's more than 1,000 residents followed the urgings of local officials and left their homes for emergency shelters and lodging with friends and relatives.
Chenetta Ross was itching to go back home.
"I just want to see my house," she said. "I bet we've spent $250 since Tuesday on clothes and everything else."
Police Chief A. W. Smith watched the caravan of residents returning home from the side of the street.
"We were this far from losing the whole west side of this town," he said, holding his thumb and finger an inch apart. "I'm glad we still have a town."
With very little rainfall in the past month in many areas, state officials said this year's May and June could be the driest in Florida history.