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Couple Escapes Tea Fire, Burned But Alive

Surviving Together


At a now-empty site where a small cottage once stood in Montecito’s frontcountry, the only object that remains among the ashy rubble is a set of medieval armor, still fully intact. It belongs to Lance Hoffman, who, along with his wife, Carla, suffered third- and second-degree burns as a result of the fire that swept through their home. The Tea Fire chased Lance and Carla down a dusty path to the spot where they parked their car on a nearby road. Lance was burned the most severely, as he tried to protect Carla the best he could from the swiftly encroaching flames.

Lance and Carla Hoffman
Click to enlarge photo

Len Wood

Lance and Carla Hoffman

Reports indicate that Carla and Lance suffered the most dire injuries of anyone affected by the Tea Fire, but this is not all that makes them unique. Carla and Lance Hoffman are not your average couple. Although opposite in physical appearance, both are described by close friends as open-minded people with hearts of gold. The couple met at Los Angeles’s Whittier College 10 years ago, but have been married for only a little over a year. Their anniversary, September 7, may not seem like a significant date to an average person, but it marked the day before the 41st anniversary of Star Trek, Carla’s favorite show. “She didn’t plan it like that, but I did point it out to her,” said John Givetz, who has worked with Carla for the past eight years. “She’s a huge nerd, she’s a Trekkie. She is unapologetic for who she is and what she likes. She loves comics and loves sharing that passion.”

Carla has worked at Metro Entertainment, the comic book store near the corner of Anapamu and State streets, for eight years and is now its manager. Lance is a security guard at Paseo Nuevo and is described by his manager Tracy Pfautch as “diligent, hardworking-a ‘Johnny on the spot.’”

The couple lived humbly in the frontcountry of the Santa Barbara mountains, according to friends. “They loved living in the mountains. Not modern living at all,” explained Givetz. “There’s a windy dirt road that you have to walk through with dry brush, and then you turn down the road, and that’s where their car was. If their car was right outside their house, they probably would have been okay.”

Carla and Lance both frequently partake in events put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism, an organization that holds Renaissance fairs and other such events. They dress up. Lance wears his armor in historic reenactment of 17th-century battles. While Carla “lives and breathes comics,” Lance has a knack for martial arts. “Within three weeks of joining, he went to a tournament and got second [place],” said Mike MacDonald, his instructor and personal friend of a year. MacDonald likened Lance to Andre the Giant. “He’s a giant of a man, has a voice that would scare little kids, and a bellowing laugh that would shake a building,” he said. But Carla never was intimidated by him. “Her favorite character is the Hulk,” said Givetz. “So it is probably not a coincidence that Lance is 6²4³ and 240 pounds.”

They are atypical,” Givetz said. “But they always have fun together.”

Both Lance and Carla are still being held at UC Riverside’s Regional Burn Center and are expected to remain in the hospital for a few months. Santa Barbara firefighters have set up the Lance and Carla Burn Fund for the couple at Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, because they are facing substantial medical bills. To make a donation, visit the branch’s 1483 East Valley Road location.

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