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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 3:38 pm | Partly Cloudy 61º


Fleeing the Flames: A Doctor’s Harrowing Escape from Holiday Fire

Dr. David Thoman's house on North Fairview Avenue was among 13 destroyed by wind-whipped blaze

Man holding cup in front of home destroyed by fire. Click to view larger
Dr. David Thoman holds up a YETI cup that somehow survived the flames from the Holiday Fire that destroyed his home on North Fairview Avenue in Goleta. (Contributed photo)

Outside it was hot and windy, sundowner conditions, so Dr. David Thoman and his family decided to spend the evening at the Bacara swimming pool cooling off.

But around 8:30 p.m. Dr. Thoman got the call — from his 11-year-old son, Rocky.

“There’s a fire on North Fairview Avenue,” Thoman recalled his son saying.

The boy was on his way back from a youth baseball game in Ventura when his friend’s mom told him there was a fire near his house.

Thoman’s home on North Fairview had survived fires before, the Gap and Jesusita fires had burned nearby. Even though he lived in the fire-dangerous rolling hills above Goleta, he always believed his home would survive those fires.

But he had a feeling that this time was different.

Thoman left his wife and other kids at the Bacara and drove to the house. He was stopped at the corner of Cathedral Oaks Road and North Fairview by authorities. Thoman, a surgeon, wasn’t going to let anyone stop him from getting home.

Away from their watchful eye, he jumped the fence of a nearby house and ran up the hill. He wanted to turn on the roof sprinklers, or get a hose on the fire. Maybe, if there was time, he would grab some of his stuff.

After a 10 minute jog, he was almost there.

Remains of home destroyed by Holiday Fire. Click to view larger
The remains of Dr. David Thoman’s home on North Fairview Avenue in Goleta, which was destroyed by the Holiday Fire. (Contributed photo)

“I made it within 25 yards of the house,” he told Noozhawk. “I saw a giant wall of flames on the other side of the house and it was raining embers everywhere.”

The fire unleashed a wicked ember through the air, landing on his property near where he was standing. It erupted into a giant flame.

“That’s when I turned around and got the hell out of there,” Thoman said.

With the flames licking at his feet, Thoman dashed down the hill, tripping over gopher holes, in his bathing trunks and beach flip flops.

“I was worried I wasn’t going to make it,” Thoman said.

He called his wife, Amy, and told her to meet him at the harbor, where they have boat. That’s where they would spend the night.

“An hour later, we saw on Twitter that our house was completely destroyed,” Thoman said.

His house was one of 13 that were destroyed in the Holiday fire, which burned 100 acres during a fast and vicious blaze that broke out Friday night.

Thoman lived at the house with his wife and children: Rocky, Tiger, 9, Buckley, 7, Luna, 5 and Veda, 2.

The two-story, 6,000-square-foot house was mansion-like, in the classic, Spanish-Mediterranean style.

David and Amy lost nearly everything in the home. Computers, footprints, baby handprints, umbilical cord, family photos.

“Things I could never get back,” Amy said. “I want my favorite sweater.”

The family’s pet rabbit, Copenhagen, also died in the fire.

Amy, a Buddhist, said she was “bawling” her eyes out, worried about the house and the bunny.

She’s trying to stay strong.

“I believe everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I am struggling to find a reason for this.”

She knows that there are people in worse situations.

“I know that there are people from the mudslides who don’t know where they kids are,” she said. “I cannot even imagine. I am so incredibly grateful.”

Amy spent Monday and Tuesday looking for a rental house for the family. They plan to rebuild on North Fairview Avenue.

“I think we are still in a state of panic and shock in a way,” she said. “I don’t think all of the emotions have sunk in. I think we are still processing it all. We are still trying to grieve everything. I am feeling a little bit of hope, but I am stressed about the year to come.”

Amid the disaster, there were some bright spots that Amy called a “miracle.”

A YETI cup, which keeps liquids hot and cold, somehow survived the fire. Thoman found it on the porch, just feet away from everything else that the fire scorched. The swimming pool that was under construction also survived.

Dr. Thoman said he doesn't care about anything of the material items that were destroyed in the blaze.

"Everybody is safe," he said.

And although the wind-whipped fire destroyed everything in its path, somehow, someway, life found a way.

The family’s 14 chickens survived the flames.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Remains of home destroyed by Holiday Fire. Click to view larger
The remains of Dr. David Thoman’s home on North Fairview Avenue in Goleta, which was destroyed by the Holiday Fire. (Contributed photo)

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