PLACER COUNTY (CBS13) – As thousands of people prepare to return to their devastated neighborhoods, many are left wondering what it’s going to take to rebuild.

Between dealing with insurance, building permits, and contractors, that process could take years. One Auburn man knows that process all too well.

“Everything from this house here to this entire block, the homes next door, just ash and rubble,” said Ken Chamberlain, who says there’s hope after devastation.

Not much was left of Chamberlain’s home after the 49 Fire torched most of his neighborhood eight years ago.

“Just like a big bomb had gone off,” Chamberlain explained.

Chamberlain remembers watching his home catch fire moments after he and his wife were ordered to leave.

“When I came back and looked at it, I kinda hung my head for a second and you got that ‘whoa it was me’, and that lasted about 15 seconds, and I said ‘well it’s gone, so let’s get going,'” he said.

Chamberlain says the wildfire sparked his desire to rebuild. He took photos documenting each step of the way.

“I had no idea we were gonna be moving as quickly along as we did,” he said.

All the while, Chamberlain and his wife, Lori, were staying at a rental home. They moved back into their home a year later.

So how did he do it?

“They cut us a check for living expenses, then they cut us a check for demolition, then a check for the building of the house, then a check for landscaping,” Chamberlain listed off.

He’s talking about his insurance company and says he also didn’t have any problems getting building permits from Placer County. The city of Auburn was quick to clear the devastation for rebuilding to begin, according to Chamberlain.

“The downside to it is you have to buy everything again,” he said.

A lot of Chamberlain’s valuables were swallowed up by the fire, but the ashes gave his family a second chance at starting over. He hopes wildfire victims around Northern California can see it that way, too.

“Thank God that you’re alive and that you’re able to rebuild and take it as a new beginning,” he said.

Chamberlain reminds wildfire victims this is their opportunity to build whatever they want. He says getting in touch with insurance companies and county resources is the first step. Everything else will fall into place.