LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — It’s been less than two weeks since the LNU Lightning Complex Fire tore through the hills to the west and north of Vacaville.
In its wake, a lot of heartache and destruction, with more than 220 homes lost in Solano County alone.
That includes the longtime home of a veteran firefighter and his wife, a renowned breeder of Egyptian dwarf goats. The fire killed 27 of the animals. Andy Pestana choked up as he spoke to News Nation.
“We were fine. We were safe but I really feel for our animals that didn’t get out. The loss of life, that still really hurts.”
Pestana is a 23 year veteran of the South San Francisco Fire Department, so he was keeping close tabs on the LNU Lightning Complex Fire on Aug. 18. Early the next morning, it suddenly took aim at their community.
Homes in the area were quickly devoured by flames.
A neighbor called to alert Pestana and his wife to get out. They had already packed and loaded their vehicles.
“It was close enough that I could not get in on the driver’s side of the truck,” said Pestana. “There were flames close enough that I went around and jumped in the passenger side of the truck, shimmied over, and my wife took the other car and we were gone.”
They came back to almost nothing. The fireplace, a crumpled garage door and some appliances are among the only recognizable remnants. The couple tried to salvage items but Pestana says there wasn’t much left.
“You try to rummage for something and… not much of anything really.”
Many of the goats lost were in the barn as well as next to 20 tons of hay that had just been delivered.
As a first responder, Pestana is feeling torn.
“My job is typically to go to somebody else’s emergency. You’ve called me, my training kicks in and you do what needs to be done. You put out the fire, you do CPR on somebody, you rescue somebody from a motor vehicle accident. Being on the other side is surreal,” he said.
The couple and their goats are staying with a friend for now. And Pestana will eventually head back to work at his firehouse. But the fate of his house destroyed by fire is unclear.
“We’re still at that tipping point of not knowing. It’s so many unknown unknowns that we just, we don’t know if we’re coming back but we’re doing the best we can and we’ll see,” he said.
But like many communities hit, Vacaville has come together to come out stronger amid all the blackened hills all around.
However, the heartache is especially painful for Curtis Hatton and his wife who also lost their home. Hatton had just paid off his mortgage last year and learned recently he was being laid off from his job as an agricultural scientist.
“So many things that can’t be replaced, that weren’t taken, so the loss of the home I guess is greater. I can always hopefully find other employment,” says Hatton.
The Hattons now call their motto of “No bad days” ironic. One of their cats is also still missing.
And due to a communication mixup, his insurance policy hadn’t been renewed as he thought.
None of their losses will be covered.
The Vacaville community has come together to help. Multiple donation centers are at the ready to facilitate those in need and those who can give.
According to Vacaville Fire Protection District Chief Howard Wood, his department had to focus on evacuations when the fire moved through. He’s been with the department for 56 years. This fire was too much, too fast and like nothing the community had seen before.
“Getting up that time of night and coming out, You expect it not to be burning like it was. It’s just the vision of it coming down and we couldn’t do anything about it,” he said.
Today, the flames are gone but it will be some time before many will be able to stop reflecting and reliving what happened.
Hatton regrets not leaving with more.
“We have nothing, the cliche, just what was on our back. We left with two cars that were empty. I can’t believe we didn’t have the forethought, to grab a handful of shirts,” said Hatton.
Chief Wood is confident Vacaville will pull through.
“It’s still here. Vacaville is a great place to live. It’s just weather changed, the heat, drying up. This could happen anywhere,” said Wood.
As of today, the LNU Lightning Complex Fire is still burning to the north but is now 76% contained.
It is the second biggest wildfire in California history.
Click here to find out how you can help those affected by the complex fires in California.