SAN JOSE, Calif. (Debora Villalon/KTVU) A couple whose home burned down in the east San Jose hills Tuesday, evacuated with nothing but their pets.
"All they took was their car and their dogs, they didn't have clothes or anything," witness Dave Carlson told KTVU.
Carlson was first to spot the fire, as he drove on Claitor Way leading into his neighborhood. He pulled over to examine the small flicker, and called 911.
"The flames started moving up the hill toward the house," described Carlson," so I went to the house to make sure the people who lived in it were able to evacuate."
He said the homeowners drove away, not realizing how serious the fire would become, and how swiftly it would move.
"We thought we were going to save the house," explained Carlson. "A couple of us neighbors got garden hoses and tried to wet down the back side of it, and engines arrived, but it came up the other side."
Crews scrambled to protect other homes on Claitor and Lariat Lane, as wind spotted the fire across the road, and it ran sideways up a hill.
At one point, it appeared a second house was burning, but when thick smoke cleared, firefighters could see the house was intact, but vegetation around it was afire.
The area is considered a high fire threat zone, because of abundant dry fuels and frequent winds.
The first crews dispatched saw the plume rising from the fire, and immediately called for additional resources, including the CalFire air attack, which dropped water and retardant all evening.
By 8 p.m., the Lariat fire was 40 percent contained, with 105 acres burned.
"We are making good progress, and the head of the fire is now in Alum Rock Park, which is steep country, but few structures," CalFire Division Chief Jim Crawford told KTVU.
"And this is not an uncommon fire in the Bay Area, with these conditions, a warm afternoon and a breeze," Crawford cautioned, " so that's why it's important to have defensible space and a plan to evacuate."
"We've been through this before, and we don't want to leave," resident Connie Bates told KTVU, as she watched firefighting aircraft buzz overhead.
A total of 18 households were advised to evacuate, but many, like Bates, opted to stay and take their chances.
"We've had fires up here before but this one was really quick," observed Bates.
"We saw two trucks go by and then suddenly flames were really close."
Neighbor Haley Wenger also stayed, spraying water on her home as a precaution.
"In ten minutes, the whole hill was on fire," exclaimed Wenger, "and that was super crazy how fast it spread."
By 10 p.m., evacuees were being allowed to return, although power was still not restored to the neighborhood.
Residents of the tight-knit neighborhood were saddened at the loss of a family home, a 3 bedroom view property valued at $1.5 million.
"I was shocked to find we'd lost the house," admitted Carlson, "because everybody tried hard to save it."