Julius Goff was the focus of ridicule when news spread of how he took refuge in his hot tub instead of fleeing an approaching wildfire.
But two months after the massive blaze left his legs severely burned, Goff is defending his actions, saying he knew of the evacuation orders but stayed to help rescue a disabled neighbor, until the flames were at his door.
“I’m not some idiot who ignores the evacuation order,” Goff said as he surveyed the rubble of the canyon home where he lived. “I got a 10-year-old son. I don’t want to die.”
Goff, 50, says he and a housemate ran through 50- to 100-foot flames and plunged into a hot tub to escape the August fire in the Angeles National Forest.
“The minute we stepped outside that door, it was so hot, the only thing we could do was scream,” Goff told CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker.
Goff said on “The Early Show” he suffers “horrific” nightmares.
“I have nightmares you wouldn’t believe,” he told “Early Show” co-anchorMaggie Rodriguez.
The nearly 251-square-mile Station fire in the Angeles National Forest was caused by arson, authorities say. It destroyed 89 homes and killed two firefighters whose truck plunged off a mountain road.
Goff, a single father, lived in a house owned by an elderly resident in the canyon community Vogel Flats. Goff said he was showing around firefighters recording the number of people in each home during a voluntary evacuation on Aug. 26, but was not too concerned.
“They said, ‘Don’t worry, we are going to put a truck in front of every house,'” Goff said.
However, Goff said he was worried about his disabled neighbor, Trevor Pullen, and went to his home to urge him to leave after learning’s Pullen’s caregiver could not get past a firefighter checkpoint.
Goff said he and Pullen’s caregiver moved Pullen, his wheelchair and three dogs into two vehicles that drove off.
“This guy saved my life,” Pullen said.
Pullen told Goff on “The Early Show,” “He was worried about getting everyone else and their stuff out safely, and lost everything he owns and almost his life, due to that. And all I have to say is thank you very much, brother.”
Pullen said he probably wouldn’t have made it out without Goff’s help. “I wouldn’t have been able to run to a Jacuzzi.”
Goff said around noon he walked deeper into the canyon and urged other neighbors to immediately leave as flames appeared on a ridge. By the time he returned home, Goff said, the garage and a boat in the front yard were on fire. He found the property caretaker, Peter Loretta, and they tried to flee.
Goff said he ripped a pair of blue jeans in half and soaked them from a water heater to use as face coverings. Loretta grabbed the landlord’s dog, Roxy, and they ran for the hot tub as flames raged in the yard.
The pair, with the dog on Goff’s chest, lay in the hot tub on their backs for about 90 minutes until the worst of the fire had passed, Goff said.
They left when they saw a pair of U.S. Forest Service trucks coming down the road. Goff said they had come looking for the residents and had brought body bags.
The men were airlifted to a hospital for treatment of burns.
Goff said he was watching the news the next day when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging people to heed fire evacuation orders, said: “People got burned and really badly injured because they did not listen.”
Goff said he wept. He claimed that, while still on pain medication, he wandered out of the hospital into the street and walked up to a police officer, demanding to speak to the governor before he was directed back to his hospital room.
Goff said, “I walked around with the fire department all day long that morning and they told all of us — reassured us — that you don’t have anything to worry about because I walked around with the fire department all morning, they said we’re going to have a fire engine in front of each and every house, and where were they? Where were they? We didn’t have no helicopters, no airplanes, no nothing. They could have stopped this fire.”
“The governor’s No. 1 priority is the safety of all Californians, and he takes the evacuation orders very seriously in any emergency situation,” Brittany Chord, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Monday.