Against the flying embers possessed by vicious wind gusts and dark charcoal smoke from the Tick Fire, Canyon Country resident and handyman Eliseo Bugarin knew he just had to try.
He was close, but it was far too late when visibility became nearly nonexistent.
“I was going to the house to try and save it,” Bugarin said Wednesday, alternatingly speaking in English and Spanish. “I was so close to arriving but I couldn’t go farther because of the smoke; it was too large and too black. When I turned around, I could see flames on my truck. I just drove away knowing we lost the entire house.”
It wasn’t just any house to the Bugarin family of six that the Tick Fire, which grew to 4,615 acres since Oct. 24 and was declared 100% contained on Thursday by fire officials, consumed entirely. It was their getaway destination, a safe haven away from work, stress and the daily routine.
To them, it was “El Rancho,” or “the ranch” house in Spanish.
“We have almost like a 360-degree view of Canyon Country and the (Santa Clarita) Valley,” said Carolina Bugarin, Eliseo’s wife. “It was our weekend home and the place where the kids could enjoy nature and play with the goats, horses, the dogs and pigs.”
The home, which stood high on the hillsides of Tick Canyon Road and was owned by the family for 12 years, was a dream house in the making as Eliseo spent an average of four to five hours daily caring for the property.
“Between his work, he would stop by and plant palm trees and plants, take care of the animals, and make a (horse) corral,” said Carolina. “We were getting antique stuff to match the ranch theme. We spent our birthdays there, had family get-togethers. What we were building was our retirement home.”
But it’s all memories now, she added. All of their belongings, including some of their farm animals, surrendered to the fire. The property sat inside a brush clearance zone but the embers that “flew so crazy onto the house is what burned it down,” said Carolina.
“Our house wasn’t too big but, you know, everything costs hard work in life and to own,” said Eliseo.
The father of four, who migrated to the United States from Mexico at age 17, had dreams to open a business and own a home. And he did. After meeting Carolina 20 years ago, he bought a house in Sun Valley, with a plan later to rent the property and eventually retire in El Rancho with his family.
“We’re OK but not emotionally,” said Carolina, a stay-at-home mom. “The thought of him losing all that he worked hard for is the hardest because buying a home like the one he grew up in was his goal. He enjoys the farm life. We planned to retire there but it’s not going to happen anymore.”
Despite their loss, “life keeps going. It’s about trying one more time,” said Eliseo, who nearly broke down in tears.
The family currently resides in their Sun Valley home as they start the recovery process. On Wednesday, the couple visited the temporary local assistance center where they sought property tax relief through the Los Angeles County’s Office of the Assessor, as well as help from the Red Cross.
At least four other families whose homes were declared destroyed during the Tick Fire received assistance at the center. Assessor’s Office spokesman Stephen Whitmore reminded others affected by the blaze to stop by as operations will continue through Monday, Nov. 4, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 20880 Centre Pointe Parkway.