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SAN DIEGO — More than 7,000 people, many of them from local military families, were forced to evacuate in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve, but they made it home just in time to celebrate safely with loved ones Friday.

Military spouse Stephanie Higashi described the moment she woke up to an evacuation alert at 2 a.m. Thursday. “When I woke up and saw just the orange sky, I was like, ‘Oh my Gosh, not again!’ because in the last fire my car caught fire and I had to run for my life with my dog,” she told FOX 5.

Higashi was referring to the Camp Fire, California’s deadliest and most destructive fire. It broke out in 2018; she and her husband lost everything. Now, two years later — at 2 a.m. — she was just as scared. She woke up her husband and they left the De Luz Military Housing complex that they call home.

“It was 2 o’clock in the morning,” her husband Cpl. Nicholas Higashi explained. “I was a little too tired. I put on (my wife’s) pajamas, so the whole day I was in a black sweatshirt and these pajamas that are up to the middle of my leg,” he said, laughing.

The couple could smile on Christmas Day, knowing they were safe at home with their young son. The Creek Fire burned more than 4,200 acres near and on Camp Pendleton, but firefighters had largely tamed the flames in areas near houses, allowing the families to celebrate from the comfort of home. The blaze was 65% contained as of Friday evening.

Returning home in time to celebrate Christmas around their tree was the best gift they could have received. They said they were incredibly thankful to the firefighters who protected their home, and the homes of so many others.

“I don’t think you can really put it into words, other than just the most whole-hearted ‘Thank you,'” Cp. Higashi said, of his message for the crews. “They’re not going to be home for the holidays and they’re just working their absolute tails off for everybody else other than themselves.”