Their house barely survived a 1980 wildfire. Now, firefighters are trying to save it from another one

Julien Cooper remembers the flames licking his property in 1980 when a devastating wildfire destroyed his neighborhood in San Bernardino, California.

All but a few houses burned in that fire — including his parents’ and the neighbor’s.

Now, another blaze is wreaking havoc in the area, bringing back traumatic memories.

Cooper, 53, who still lives in the same house with his 80-year-old father Roland, told CNN he was asleep early Thursday when he heard his phone ringing at 2:30 a.m.

“Next thing I know, I wake up and smell smoke in the house,” he told CNN. “Ten seconds later, I hear the doorbell and I already know what it is since we had a fire a week ago.”

“It was the neighbor saying that there was a fire in the field.”

At the time, his neighbor’s house wasn’t even touched by the flames. So Cooper grabbed his dad and his dog, and crossed the street to help the neighbor’s elderly mother evacuate.

Once in a safe area about 15 blocks away, Cooper called his niece Renee, who lives five minutes away.

After meeting at a McDonald’s, Renee told Cooper that the street leading to their house was not blocked. So they decided to go back to grab some valuables.

“Only 15 minutes had passed since we left, but the neighbor’s house was on fire. It went up in a matter of 15 minutes.”

“I grabbed a bunch of stuff — photos, blankets, papers — snapped a quick video and left. I saw firefighters saying: ‘We can’t save that house, but we’re gonna try to save this one,’ referring to our house,” he said. “I had to have Renee help me back out of the driveway because there were so many trucks and smoke, I couldn’t see.”

Cooper took video of the neighbor’s house engulfed in flames. His nephew Henri Moser, who lives in Maine, shared it on Twitter.

Cooper spoke to CNN while sitting in his car in a parking lot. He was watching the news on his iPad because he has nowhere to evacuate. He said the fire destroying houses in his neighborhood brought back memories of the devastating Panorama Fire in 1980.

“It was 100 times bigger than this one. The whole mountain was on fire. I was a sophomore in high school, and the schoolyard across the street was on fire,” he said. “It burned hundreds of houses, except my parents’ house, which is the same as it is now. All houses but my parents’ one were rebuilt.”

There are about seven houses in his little area touching the mountains, he said.

“Knock on wood, it looks like we may make it again.”

Six homes and at least two other buildings have been consumed by the Hillside Fire in San Bernardino County.

The wind-driven fire was immediately threatening homes as the first crews arrived on scene, San Bernardino County Fire Chief Don Trapp said in a news conference.

Wind and low humidity are still major factors in the firefight. Fire crews are expecting 20-30 mph winds and a very low relative humidity, about 2-3%, Deputy Chief Scott Howes of the San Bernardino Forest Service explained.

 

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