For most families who have endured loss as a result of the Tea Fire, the tragedy has been limited to material damages.
That’s not the case for the family of James Mills, a retired pharmacist in Solvang, whose grandson and granddaughter-in-law suffered major burns in the fire, and are clinging to life at the UC Irvine Regional Burn Center.
Lance Hoffman, a 29-year-old security guard at Paseo Nuevo, and his wife, Carla, a manager at Metro Entertainment on West Anapamu Street, had been renting a small cottage up in the hills on East Mountain Drive.
Mills said the family isn’t sure exactly what happened to the couple, because they have been unconscious under sedation since their rescue.
The incident occurred Thursday evening, shortly after the fast-moving fire broke out on East Mountain and Coyote Road above Montecito’s Cold Spring neighborhood.
The couple was apparently running to their car from their cottage when they were overtaken by a flash fire, said Mills, speaking to Noozhawk by phone from his home.
Both Hoffmans were lightly dressed, Mills said, and as a result suffered severe burns on their arms and legs. Lance also has second- and third-degree burns on his head.
Although badly burned, the couple was able to drive themselves to a fire station. From there, they were transported by ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, and later were flown by helicopter to Irvine.
“A lot of times, when people are initially hurt — even gravely hurt — they can still do things that their bodies aren’t up to maintain,” said Mills, a former firefighter.
Mills said doctors at the burn center plan to keep the couple unconscious until the swelling goes down. He said they are connected to a life-support system to keep them hydrated, oxygenated and nourished.
Lance’s facial and head burns appear worse than Carla’s, he added. What’s more, doctors are worried that his lungs have been singed by flames.
“I couldn’t keep from crying when I saw him,” Mills said.
The couple has been married for about a year, and met, Mills said, while attending Whittier College.
A graduate of Santa Ynez High School, Lance, who was the captain of his water-polo team in high school, is a man of some heft — 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. Mills said he is a “pleasant guy” who, as a kid loved to accompany his woodsman grandfather on backpacking hikes through the back-country.
As a former firefighter, Mills said he had always been nervous about the couple’s decision to live up in the hills.
“People always think the fire happens to other people; as a fireman I saw this all the time,” Mills said. “Fire is an element of climate in California. The chaparral is like fuel. Up there, it’s not a matter of if it’s going to burn, but when.”