Agua Dulce family faces the flames, again

The Soledad Fire crests a hill near the Goertz family's home in Agua Dulce at 4:49 p.m., just a little over an hour after it began on Sunday, July 5, 2020. Courtesy of Michelle Goertz
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In July 2016, firefighters were able to save the Goertz family’s home in Agua Dulce from the Sand Fire. 

“They ran hoses to protect the structure, so every square inch of the property burned, but not the house,” Michelle Goertz said. 

In 2017, a mudslide left the already damaged property in shambles. 

Then on Sunday, almost exactly four years after the fire, the Goertz family was told to evacuate their home for the second time as the Soledad Fire raged nearby.

“They were able to protect it three years ago, so we’re hoping that they were able to protect it today,” Goertz said Monday morning as she drove back home to see if her home had once again survived.

In what Goertz described as the most terrifying experience of her life, she and her son Gary were given only a moment’s notice to evacuate their home on Soledad Canyon Road.

A cloud of smoke can be seen from Vasquez Rocks as the Goertz family is evacuating the Soledad Fire on Sunday, July 5, 2020. Courtesy of Michelle Goertz

“My husband called and said that there was a fire on the 14, so we went outside and took a look,” she said, adding that they could see plumes of smoke on a nearby ridge. “We could see the Fire Department was in action, with water dropping helicopters (and) fixed-wing aircraft … The fire looked under control, so we returned inside.”

An hour later, a sheriff’s patrol car was pulling up the Goertz family’s driveway, telling them that the fire was coming their way and that they had to evacuate immediately. 

“At that point, I turned around, took one last look at my house, and walked in to tell my son to grab the animals and we were leaving,” Goertz said. “We just threw everything and everybody in the car and attempted to leave.”

Goertz asked her husband, Chad, if there was anything he wanted her to save, to which he replied, “Bring my dog and my ’69,” she said.  

“By ’69, he meant his 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, his very first car when he was a teenager,” she added. “That car was immensely important to him.”

Though the car had survived the Sand Fire, it looked like it may not survive this one, as it wouldn’t start.

The view of the Soledad Fire just after 6 p.m. from the Goertz family’s home in Agua Dulce as they are ordered to evacuate by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department on Sunday, July 5, 2020. Courtesy of Michelle Goertz

“It was honestly an action movie in real life … and utterly terrifying,” Goertz said.

As Goertz and her son worked to start the car, sheriff’s were making another round, sirens blaring as they announced the mandatory evacuations over the loudspeakers. Meanwhile, overhead L.A. County Fire helicopters were hovering as they filled their water tanks nearby. 

“As if there could not be any more pressure added to this situation, (a sheriff’s deputy) came to my gate and … advised me that the fire was now a quarter of a mile away and heading directly towards us,” Goertz added.

Another half-hour had passed before Goertz and her son were able to get the car going, driving out of the canyon while ashes rained down in what Goertz said looked like “apocalyptic snowflakes.” 

“That wasn’t even the worst of it,” Goertz added.

After leaving the Trans Am at a friend’s house for safekeeping, the Goertz’s got on the road, finding traffic at a standstill in every direction as Highway 14 remained shut down and an accident left traffic on Sierra Highway backed up.

The Goertzes wait in bumper-to-bumper traffic as far as the eye can see around 8:30 p.m. while evacuating their home due to the Soledad Fire on Sunday, July 5, 2020. Courtesy of Michelle Goertz

“There was just literally nowhere to go, so we just sat in line with all these other hundreds and thousands of cars,” she said. “That was the terrifying part (because) we’re trapped in a vehicle, and we don’t know where the fire is because we can still hear the helicopters overhead, but we’re in a canyon, so we can’t see anything … Those few hours were the longest of my life.”

It took the Goertzes nearly five hours from the time they had initially evacuated to reach their hotel room in Newhall.

“The lobby of the hotel was filled with emergency crew firefighters, looking haggard, exhausted, and covered in fire and soot,” Goertz said. “It left my heart heavy, and I was at a loss for words as I looked at my family and these heroes who may have just saved my very home.”

The next morning, the family drove back home to find out the fate of their home, finding that firefighters had succeeded in stopping the fire on the very ridge where they had seen it the previous day.

Now, the Goertz family are back home and said they’re grateful for the first responders who were able to save their home, and car, from the fire, once again.

Fire retardant is visible on the hillside where the Goertz family viewed the Soledad Fire cresting the previous day on Monday, July 6, 2020. Courtesy of Michelle Goertz

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