A fire at La Patera Ranch in the foothills north of Goleta killed a man whose identity has not yet been released by investigators. The cause of the blaze has also not yet been determined. A second occupant escaped from the house unharmed before firefighters arrived. The fire burned the main ranch house in an historic compound amid orchards owned by the Stow Land Company, north of Cathedral Oaks at 900 Patera Lane.
Firefighters responding to the scene at 2:48 a.m. on Wednesday, August 8, found the main ranch residence fully engulfed in flames, according to the initial account that morning by firefighter Pete Christensen. This report also noted that crews were “having a difficult time extinguishing the blaze due to the lack of water on the property” and had requested additional water companies.
On Thursday, Christensen said that despite his original report, posted 20 minutes after crews arrived on the scene, water availability did not prove to be a significant problem. The first truck to arrive – from Stow House Engine Company, within seven or eight minutes of the alarm – was carrying 500 gallons of water, which is typical of all fire engines and which serves for the initial attack. A second engine arriving moments later from the UCSB company provided another 500 gallons. A third followed soon thereafter. La Patera Ranch relies on the property’s native water sources, said a Goleta Water District spokesperson, and the nearest hydrant is hundreds of feet south of Cathedral Oaks. However, crews located an agricultural pond about 150 feet away and set up a draughting system so that water could be used to fight the fire. While this process can take some time, said Christensen, a total of five engines ultimately arrived-which is “plenty” to extinguish a residence fire, Christensen said-along with a water tender carrying 3000 gallons. “They never ran out of water,” said Captain Larry Ryan, though he also admitted that setting up the pump system took time.
Crews also had to work around live electrical lines on the ground. Although investigators spent all of Wednesday at the scene, it is not yet clear whether the downed lines were the cause of the fire or merely one of its effects. “It’s a huge mess out there,” said Stephen Link, a investigator working with the Santa Barbara Fire Department, who noted that a non-functioning fire alarm may have led to the fire growing bigger than it would have otherwise.
Investigators will have to wait for the results of an examination of the deceased man’s dental records in order to positively identify him.