Multiple fires are raging in Southern California. A series of Santa Ana wind-driven wildfires have destroyed hundreds of structures, forced thousands to flee and smothered the region with smoke in what officials predicted would be a pitched battle for days.
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Julio Varela stood at the base of La Conchita Road and breathed a sigh of relief. While the abandoned structure just to the left of his home burned down, his house was safe.
Varela, 67, was at dinner with friends Wednesday night when he heard about the fire nearing La Conchita. All five of the friends he was with had lost their homes in Ventura.
Around 9 p.m., he made his way back to the neighborhood where he’s lived for 35 years. The police arrived shortly after and urged everyone to evacuate. But Varela stayed. He snuck into his brown house, grabbed a hose and started to water the balcony and roof, and douse any embers that flared up.
The flames, he said, sounded like a train going through the area.
“It was the most eerie thing,” he said. “And then the flames just came down.”
Varela said he was impressed with the firefighters, who quickly found a way to get water up the hill when the hydrant wasn’t working. They attached a hose to the base of the road and took a hose 100 feet up toward his home.
“It’s a relief,” he said. “I think tonight I’m gonna sleep really good.”
He called this neighborhood his “slice of paradise” and said he plans on staying here to ensure no flare-up burns his home.
“I’m going to be happy, at least for the day,” Varela said.
His wife, who spent the night at their office in Ventura, was worried that he stayed behind.
When he called her at 5 a.m. to tell her their house was OK, she cried uncontrollably.
Meanwhile, on the shoulder of the northbound 101 Freeway, Steve Holmstrom tried to catch a glimpse of his home.
“I left last night because it was getting too close,” he said, adding that his spent the night with his children in Carpinteria.
The abandoned structure next to his house burned down Wednesday night, he said. The 62-year-old, who lives on Fillmore Avenue, said he was worried because his home is made of wood.
“Thankfully they saved it,” he said.
Holmstrom said he’s lived in this area since 1972, and his house survived other disasters, including a devastating mudslide that killed residents at the base of the hill.
“These firefighters are amazing. This whole place could’ve gone,” he said. “I feel so much better. Last night was kind of a panic.”