Tuesday, November 13 , 2018, 3:43 pm | Fair 70º


Spared Residents Describe Split-Second Decisions, Actions Made as Holiday Fire Bore Down

Goleta foothills homeowner recalls thinking ‘we are done,’ marvels at improbable outcome while mourning for neighbors who weren’t as fortunate

Salvage Click to view larger
A firefighter carries salvaged items from a burned-out residence along North Fairview Avenue in the Goleta foothills as Holiday Fire cleanup efforts begin Saturday. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

One minute, Billy Hugo was playing soccer on the grass in front of his home in the Goleta foothills Friday evening. Moments later, he and his family were escaping a wildfire that erupted nearby.

Driven by fierce — and piercing hot — sundowner winds, the blaze hopped around the neighborhood, skipping over some residences and quickly burning others to the ground.

The fire ignited about 8:45 p.m. Friday just off Holiday Hill Road, a loop on the west side of North Fairview Avenue north of Cathedral Oaks Road. The 100-acre fire was reported to be 80 percent contained as of Saturday night. It destroyed more than a dozen homes.

“I smelled it, and I could see it,” Hugo said of the fire rapidly approaching his house in the 1100 block of North Fairview and Pine Tree Lane. “It was coming down quick. I called 9-1-1 and thought, ‘This is not good.’

“I could see a house burning and thought ‘Oh, we are done.’”

The family jumped into action. Within five minutes, Hugo, his wife and two children drove to a friend’s house near the Rancho Embarcadero neighborhood in Tecolote Canyon west of Goleta.

The Hugos grabbed some personal items, medications, and enough clothing for two days.

“And that wasn’t enough,” he told Noozhawk. “We had the folder with the deeds, passports and other stuff — and grabbed that.”

Hugo, who has lived in Santa Barbara County since the 1990s and on North Fairview for about a year and a half, returned home to good news Saturday morning. His house was still standing.

Starting around 10 a.m., he and a buddy, Eric Marston, were raking debris from the Hugos’ doorsteps and yard. The men also were dousing “hotspots” that continued to burn Saturday and watering the landscaping.

Fire Click to view larger
A firefighter works on dousing hotspots and lingering embers at a destroyed house in the Goleta foothills Saturday. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

“It’s indiscriminate,” Marston said of the damaged homes. “Some yards are completely burned down.”

Dana Driskel’s two-story home was spared, but he didn’t know what to expect as he was driving up to the 1100 block of North Fairview and Pine Tree Lane on Saturday morning.

“It’s pure luck,” he said, naming neighbors and pointing out their burned properties. “It was a surreal relief. But, at the same time, the fact that your neighbor simply across the one-lane road is totally gone ...

“It’s remarkable that our little offshoot of the lane has no damage,” he continued. “There are fewer trees today.”

Driskel took the family dogs Friday night to his daughter’s house in Goleta. His wife, Patty, stayed behind a few minutes more to grab additional items from the home they built 30 years ago.

“It’s remarkable that in the clearness of the day, you know exactly what you would take and the priorities, but when the moment happens, you turn into a basic idiot,” Driskel said. “We got the essentials, but didn’t anticipate necessarily to have the home standing when we came back.”

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Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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.

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