A California man, 81, has revealed how he spent 30 years building his ‘dream house’ before it was burned to ashes this week in one of the state’s biggest wildfires on record.
Hank Hanson is just one of hundreds of homeowners and residents who have lost everything in the devastating blazes that continue to rip through the Golden State.
He told how he and his wife fled for their lives from their home in Vacaville Wednesday morning, just moments before the LNU Lightning Complex fires destroyed it, leaving his tomato plants the only thing unscathed.
‘I worked on it for 30 years. It was pretty nice,’ the 81-year-old said of his home.
Hanson revealed how he was awake at around 1 a.m. Wednesday because his electricity was out and the stifling 95-degree (35C) temperature prevented him from sleeping.
He said he looked outside and saw the ridge line of the hills by his home lit up by the raging fire.
‘It started pouring toward us like a waterfall,’ he said.
Hanson said the couple often hear sirens after living nearly 30 years in the wildfire-prone wilderness of Northern California between San Francisco and Sacramento, but he realized the scale of this week’s blazes was different.
There was no evacuation warning for the couple and their neighbors, due to firefighting crews being stretched thin.
Hanson said he quickly woke up his wife and they fled the roaring fire in their diesel truck, as they and other neighbors rang their car horns to alert other residents.
The couple made it to a hotel room in the nearby community of Fairfield and found out later their home, that they spent decades renovating, had been completely destroyed.
Hanson, who owned a business that made patio enclosures, bought the property in 1974.
At the time it was a small redwood home originally built in Vacaville in the 1930s.
He spent weekends there for the next 17 years, planting walnut, peach, fig and eucalyptus trees.
In 1991, Hanson completed a 3,000 square-foot addition to that house complete with a wine cellar, indoor and outdoor pools plus three fireplaces.
The only thing that survived was his tomatoes which somehow did not burn.
‘They escaped the whole deal,’ he said. ‘About the only thing I have left in the world is tomatoes.’
Hanson said they won’t rebuild their home because ‘I wouldn’t want to do it on a lesser scale, and I don’t got time to top the old one.’
Instead, he said he plans to turn the lot into a park and a campground for himself and his friends for the next few years.
Hanson said he and his wife are grateful to be alive and are treating the fire and their terrifying escape as ‘an adventure’.
The fire that ripped through Hanson’s home was one of more than 500 wildfires ignited across California this week from what state firefighting officials are calling a ‘lightning siege’ – summer thunderstorms that produce little or no rain but have prompted nearly 12,000 lightening strikes across sun-scorched terrain.
More than 13,700 firefighters are battling the blazes, the most severe of which are focused in Northern California west of the state capital in Sacramento and east of the San Francisco Bay.
The extraordinary reach of the flames has pushed firefighting resources to the point ‘we have not seen in recent history,’ said Shana Jones, chief of the Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit of the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Donald Trump issued a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration Saturday to boost the state’s emergency response to the wildfires, after Governor Gavin Newsom pleaded with the president to grant the declarations Friday.
The National Guard has also been activated and is ready to send in helicopters and 240 crew members to help the embattled fire crews that have got the blaze only 15 percent contained.