GOLETA (CBSLA/AP) — A fast-moving brush fire in the Santa Barbara County community of Goleta has damaged or destroyed 20 homes and structures and was threatening scores more Saturday morning, as thousands of people evacuated to safety.
The Holiday Fire started as a structure fire sometime before 8:45 p.m. on North Fairview Avenue, above Goleta, and quickly spread to nearby brush, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department reports. The fire had burned at least 60 acres as of 8 a.m. Saturday morning and was only 5 percent contained.
Fire crews had made significant progress by 4 p.m., containing the 100-acre fire at 80 percent, Santa Barbara County fire authorities said at a press conference.
Total calm Saturday morning replaced the 50 mile-per-hour gusts and forward progress of the fire was stopped, Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said.
“It’s really given us a good opportunity to get in there and get some work done,” Zaniboni said, cautioning that critical fire weather warnings would remain in effect until the evening.
An excessive heat warning was in effect until 9 p.m. for Santa Barbara County, the National Weather Service reported, while a red flag warning was in effect through 6 p.m.
Evacuations were in effect for about 2,500 people. They applied to areas north of the Cathedral Oaks neighborhood to West Camino Cielo Road, and from La Patera Lane, west to North Patterson Avenue. All roads going north from La Patera Lane to Patterson Avenue, along Cathedral Oaks, were closed to the public.
About 600 people were to remain out of their homes Saturday evening.
The evacuation order for the areas accessed from the following roads was being downgraded to an evacuation warning beginning at 5 p.m.:
- La Patera Lane
- Carlo Drive
- Santa Margarita Drive
- Hidden Lane
- Cambridge Drive
- Dorado Drive
- N. Kellogg Avenue
- Avenida Pequena
- N. Patterson Avenue
An evacuation center was set up at Goleta Valley Community Center, located at 5679 Hollister Ave.
Authorities said they could not give an updated number of the homes and structures destroyed, as an investigation was still underway.
350 fire personnel were battling the blaze from the ground and in the air, with water-dropping choppers and air tankers. There have been no reported injuries.
California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County Saturday morning.
As some houses smoldered, a few residents who hadn’t left or had managed to return surveyed damage that seemed random: destroyed homes next to others completely intact.
Eric Durtschi stood outside his destroyed house, where a burned-out car stood in the driveway and kids’ bicycles were strewn about.
Durtschi, his wife and six children had left Utah and moved in just a few weeks ago. He said he hadn’t yet told his two oldest children their home was gone. He managed to collect his severely burned vintage guns, hoping to salvage them.
Meanwhile, a neighbor across the street saw his home spared. The man had stayed through the night spraying down other people’s houses.
The Driskel family was fortunate to see the dream house they built 30 years ago still standing amid the rubble of their neighbors’ former homes.
“It was so hot [firefighters] couldn’t walk on the street,” Patty Driskel told CBS2. Ashes could be seen where houses once stood on what neighbors call “Pine Tree Lane,” where five families Driskel knows lost their homes.
“I’m devastated for them, I’m feeling fortunate for myself,” said Driskel. She said her husband smelled smoked as they watched TV Friday night.
“He gets up to the deck, and he looks out, and he goes, ‘Oh my God! […] It’s the big one! Pack up, we’re going.'”
“Devastating” was also how homeowner John Davis described his mood. His house was also spared.
“The embers were flying fireballs, is what they were,” Davis told CBS2.
Davis and his son did their best to keep their home safe by spraying it with water, but at a point, it became just too dangerous.
“My son’s yelling at me, things are falling on him, you know, he’s getting burned, and said, ‘Let’s get outta here. Let’s just go,'” said Davis. “Literally, it’s devastating. For me, this is devastating; I couldn’t imagine, especially our good friends the Lynches, they lost two homes.[…] I feel for ’em, you know. What else can you say to them? ‘I’m sorry.'”
The area is west of where the Thomas Fire, California’s largest in history, raged last December. That blaze destroyed more than 1,000 buildings in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
“We’re tired of this! We’re all tired of this!” homeowner Barbara Eberhart chuckled. “C’mon, Mother Nature! Stop! Be kind!”
The cause of the fire is still unknown.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)