What It Was Like Inside California's Raging Valley Fire

A former firefighter was in Middletown when blaze was at its worst.

— -- Raging fires spread throughout Middletown, California, Sunday, and while most of the residents had fled for their safety, the rescue crews were left looking for unexpected hazards as they fought the flames.

One man who was on the ground there was Tod Sudmeier, a retired firefighter who now works as a fire photographer. He told ABC News about the "chaotic" situation on the ground as fire crews worked to try to save homes and businesses.

"This town was a ghost town when I got here," he said Sunday night.

"The smoke was so thick it was like fog," Sudmeier said. "When the cars would drive by, you could see the beam of where their headlight would be because it was that thick, so it's not the easiest to breathe."

Part of the problem facing first responders and Sudmeier was the shifting direction of the winds and, in turn, the fires.

"It's called a spot fire; it gets out ahead of the main fire up to a mile. ... In this case these little fire brands would land in the neighbor's yard or blow into the neighbor's yard and it would just leap frog and progress. And that's why sometimes you'll see one house that's burnt and one that's between two houses that's perfectly fine, and you have another house that's burnt down," he said.

The nature of the burning had another effect on people at the scene or, more specifically, their sense of smell.

"The homes have a very acrid smell; it stinks and it's hard to breathe, much worse than the wild land smoke or smoke that comes from vegetation," he said.

"It's just so thick you can't see or breathe, no matter how [many] goggles you have on or what kind of respiratory protection. Unless you have a breathing apparatus, it's just untenable for anybody."