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Resident recalls driving through fierce Goleta fire to save homes and animals

Goleta homeowner Jeff Danhauer says weed abatement, brush clearing and some good fortune helped to save his house in Friday night’s inferno in Goleta where he faced the flames ten years ago as well.

Standing at the edge of his property on North Fairview Avenue, Danhauer sees 100 acres of land and more than 30 structures, about half homes, destroyed, along with cars and crops.

When he learned of the fire, he was nearby at a restaurant and raced back , with his wife, to get in to his home before road blocks went up.

“We had to break through the fire lines down there just before they closed the road. We were coming through fire balls and everything,” said Danhauer. “She said ‘gun it’ we have to go through the fire to get up there.”

Along with his house, he was watching a neighbor’s property while they were gone.

“We had our dogs, our Rhodesian ridgebacks, we’ve got horses,” he said. Next door his neighbors had “five horses and sheep and dogs and cats we are taking care of.”

The properties were right above what’s generally believed to be the “point of origin” where the fire started. An exact site has not been identified and released publicaly. Winds were blasting from the ridge going down canyon directly out of the north in a funnel shape. Any hard reverse, and it would be an up canyon fire aiming directly at Danhauer’s home.

This site was in the line of fire before he recalls. Ten years ago in the Gap fire, flames were coming from the east moving westward across the front country for several days when they moved forward and destroyed nearly everything around the house but the structure was spared.

The Gap fire was also a July fire and burned 9443 acres. It was determined to be started by a juvenile who was arrested in November, 2008.

Danhauer never thought he would see a fire like that again because so much was burned down.
“The real thing during the Gap fire as you remember interviewing me then, there were fire trucks everywhere else and none over here. They said ‘we know your place is defensible,'” he said overlooking the canyons around his home.

Surprisingly, a new fire prevention plan was discussed right away. “After the Gap fire, the firemen said do as much of that as you can so we can at least get hand trucks in and I am thinking ‘there ain’t going to be no next fire in a long long time’, and now ten years later here we are and Thank God we did it,” said Danhauer.

Just outside of the road to his home, Danhauer sees an investigative team with Santa Barbara County and CalFire. There’s a string of yellow tape to block off access where they are looking for the cause of the fire. The site has brush, oak trees, low level grass and power lines and a road for vehicles.

At the time of the fire, there were reports of arching wires, burning vegetation and possibly a structure fire. Temperatures were recorded at 101 degrees in the area at 8 p.m. They increased like a blow dryer as the sun went down and the winds significantly began to roar through the tight slopes coming off the Santa Ynez mountain range.

Firefighters say the last time they remember something like this in the same area where they had roughly five hours of a powerful super heated blast of hot air, and a wild land fire was on June 27, 1990 during the Painted Cave (Paint) fire. It was a few miles over to the east. That fire was determined to be intentionally set. It took one life and destroyed about 500 homes in one of the most catastrophic events in Santa Barbara County history.

This fire was near a street called Holiday Hill. Fire names are usually one word. It was labeled the Holiday fire, ironically because it was two days after the 4th of July holiday.

Damage totals to homes alone are expected to reach in excess of $20 million. When you add in barns, farm equipment, personal vehicles and agricultural losses, the damage total will be significantly higher.

Monday, fire crews were still watching hot spots smolder, but no active flames were seen or threatening any land in the area.
Returning residents reported the loss of pets including a rabbit, and some chickens.

All residents either got out safely or sheltered in place. No lives were lost, and there were no major injuries, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.

One truck with a wildlife center in the area was damage in an accident while a worker was returning to save animals.

Danhauer was up all night with the animals, and watching properties in the area.

He has surveyed the area with an all terrain vehicle. Burnt oak trees ready to fall over are at the entrance to the drive to his house.

Skeletons of structures, and storage buildings are twisted on the ground. Burnt and melted cars and trucks are on many of the properties.

Danhauer strongly believes bulldozer breaks and controlled burns in the area, along with weed abatement by residents will make it difficult for other fires to spread if they should break out. He urged political leaders and fire officials to consider a master plan that reduces brush in the Goleta foothills as a way to be proactive before the next wildfire. He says it will save lives and property.

He is next to the Wildlife Care Network where workers and volunteers were cleaning, gradually returning animals, and assessing the fire’s impact. The facility had some damage but was largely spared from the destruction other nearby properties faced.

Some rabbits are running in and out of the remaining brush, but no other wild animals have been seen in an area known for coyotes, bobcats, and raccoons. In the last few years, an adult mountain lion and a mother bear and her cub have been reported on more than one occasion.

Some of Danhauer’s close neighbors no longer have homes. But they have a helping hand. “From the ones I have seen, I have told them we have water, electricity or anything (you need.) You are welcomed to come up. We have a roof,” he tells them.

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