The deadly wildfires that have ravaged Northern California, killing at least 17 people, caught many residents by surprise, sweeping into their neighborhoods after they had gone to bed and leaving them precious few minutes to escape.

Some evacuated in the nick of time. Others weren’t as lucky. And nearly everyone in the region is grappling with near-apocalyptic devastation โ€” homes burned to a crisp, once-idyllic communities turned into ash-covered shells.

“You can see folks’ cars parked in their driveways. They didn’t even have a chance to get into their cars and drive them away in some cases,” said Scott McLean, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. “This was at night. People were asleep, so they were woken and they … ran for their lives.”

At least 3,500 homes and commercial structures were destroyed, many in Santa Rosa, a city of more than 167,000. Pacific Gas & Electric said late Tuesday afternoon that about 75,000 customers remained without power, 50,000 of them in the Santa Rosa area.