Smoke rises from the Thomas Fire in Ventura County on Dec. 10, 2017, where Thomas Kofron risked his life to save his parent’s home.
Photo by Senior Airman Crystal Housman / California Air National Guard
Thomas Kofron, a local firefighter and former Cuesta student, risked his life to save his parents’ home in Ventura County from the Thomas fire.
At 9 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 10, Kofron received a call from his family with warnings that the Thomas fire was threatening their home.
Kofron arrived in Ventura at 1 a.m. where the whole neighborhood had gathered in the street to view the massive inferno in the sky.
The neighborhood had seemed clear of the fire so Kofron and his family retreated back inside the house thinking they’d be safe. Twenty minutes later the fire grew to a massive size threatening the neighborhood, and Kofron’s family immediately evacuated.
Video via Thomas Kofron’s Facebook page
“Out of nowhere the whole sky is lit up, it’s completely red over the hillside and I can’t see what’s there but I know it’s huge,” Kofron said.
Cal Fire tweeted on Dec. 10 that five wildfires had burned approximately 200,000 acres, with some 9,000 firefighters combatting the blazes. 98,000 Southern California residents had been evacuated, nearly 25,000 homes were threatened, and 834 structures were destroyed. The Thomas Fire alone was responsible for a significant share of the damage, as Cal Fire tweeted in an update hours later.
Kofron, 30, decided to stay behind and “see what kind of stand” he could make by gearing up and grabbing garden hoses.
“That’s when things started to get real,” said Kofron, who works for San Luis Obispo County Cal Fire.
As the fire got closer and closer embers started raining down and Kofron began to see homes in the neighborhood catching fire and burning down.
Needing to come up with an immediate escape plan Kofron set up two cars in the driveway, both available to escape with if his final stand should fail.
As embers flew toward the home, small fires sprout up all over the lawn, where Kofron raced to put each one out using his experience from seven years of firefighting.
“Because it was my parents’ home I was a lot more scared than usual, part of that because I was by myself, I didn’t have a fire crew or a fire engine or even a real fire hose, all I had was a garden hose,” Kofron said.
At 3 a.m. the water shut off and Kofron didn’t have any more hoses to fight the fire with. At that point he began to burn the vegetation around the house to gain control from the larger fire approaching.
At one point Kofron realized his deck was on fire, and having no water pressure in the hoses, he ran into the house and grabbed bottle of water to put it out.
“This went on all night, I probably did about 200 laps around the house extinguishing embers and small fires,” Kofron recalled.
Kofron’s story doesn’t end there. At 10 a.m. he realized smoke was coming out of a neighbor’s home. Everyone in the neighborhood was evacuated and Kofron realized that if he didn’t do anything, the house would burn down.
“I figured what the hell I’ll see what I can do,” Kofron said. “And I didn’t have any water, I had a jug of orange juice, that was the closest thing I could think of.”
Approaching the smoking home with only his jug of orange juice, Kofron tried to locate the fire. The smoke was thick and made it difficult for him to see and breathe but still he made his way.
Kofron had to tear through the stucco walls to where embers had penetrated through the ventilation system, but found the fire and put it out with his jug of orange juice.
All the while Kofron’s parents were waiting nearby in a grocery store parking lot, scared and worried for the safety of their son. All night they watched homes in the neighborhood be reduced to a pile of ash and rubble, sure that their home of 15 years would be gone with them.
“My parents house survived because the fire inside me burned hotter than the fire around me.”
-Thomas Kofron, via his Facebook page.
As of Dec. 12, the neighborhood was still evacuated. Kofron and his family are living out of a hotel.
“It’s pretty stressful here, staying in the hotel is not ideal and we’re not allowed to go back to the house to get clothes and various items were used to having,” Kofron said.
Kofron’s parents have close friends whose homes had burned down in the neighborhood, in which many of them won’t rebuild or try moving back.
“The smoke is ridiculous and everyone is wearing masks, it’s a very stressful time,” said Kofron.
Kofron does not recommend anybody trying to do what he did because he is a professional firefighter with years of training and experience. Kofron took EMT and fire safety courses at Cuesta in 2012.
“The average person should listen to the evacuation warnings and be prepared ahead of time to evacuate,” Kofron advised.