INDIANOLA, Sanpete County — Despite his relatively upbeat mood Saturday morning, Gabe Payne still got choked up for a moment when he saw firsthand just how much havoc the Wood Hollow Fire had wreaked.
"I thought we were on another planet, like Mars or something," Payne said. "I mean there's just nothing left — nothing green — it's just burnt dirt."
There's also nothing left of the cabin Payne and his wife Raylene built on the land they purchased from his mother in 2006. Several camp trailers and all of the outbuildings on the property are also tangled heaps of scorched debris. The massive fiberglass flag pole — melted by the fire — lay on the ground as if it were a giant, wet spaghetti noodle someone had dropped from the sky.
"We were just decorating the cabin," Payne said. "People loved to come up here. It was all tongue and groove inside. It was really nice."
The Paynes and others with land in the Oaker Hills, Elk Ridge and Indian Ridge subdivisions were allowed to return to their properties Saturday for the first time since mandatory evacuations were ordered June 23.
The couple had reached their cabin that night while the fire was still miles away and only had time to load a couple of ATVs and a few small items before they were ordered out.
"We didn't even think (the fire) was going to get to us," Payne said. "It was so far away when we had to leave."
The Wood Hollow Fire, which was estimated at 47,295 acres and 65 percent contained, had destroyed 52 residences and 108 outbuildings at last count. It is also responsible for one death.
The body of a man was found near a burned home in Elk Ridge by search and rescue crews documenting the burned structures Tuesday. Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielsen said Wednesday that tentative identification had been made and family members had been notified. Officials are still waiting for the medical examiner's report before releasing the man's name.
Red Cross volunteers were on hand Saturday to offer assistance to those who were visiting their homes and cabins for the first time, and witnessing the destruction up close.
"There's the immediate crisis and the shock, and then how do you pick things up and go on? That's another challenge later on," said Olivia Moreton with the Greater Salt Lake Chapter of the American Red Cross.
"We are (here) to assist, help and find resources to meet those needs," she said.
Those impacted by the Wood Hollow Fire and the other fires burning around the state can also make use of the Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990. The 24/7 helpline is staffed by trained professionals and is provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Although Payne and his wife seemed to handle the loss of their cabin and other structures fairly well Saturday — laughing at times about what was consumed by fire and what was spared — there were moments when they hugged one another tightly and shed tears.
"I still have a home to go to and they don't," Payne said, referring to some of his neighbors who live in Oaker Hills full time.
"I mean, feel grateful for what you still have, right?" Payne said.