For Arnulfo Basave, life on a Carpinteria ranch filled with avocado and fruit trees has been sweet.
The former avocado picker was hired years ago at the ranch off Stanley Park Road, where he manages the property, prunes the trees and hires laborers to pick the fruit.
For more than 20 years, he and his family have lived on their boss’s property. Basave and his wife took photos there on their wedding day. They raised children there. They hosted Basave’s parents from Mexico.
But this week, Basave feared the Thomas fire would claim the place that has meant so much to him. He did everything he could to save it.
“I asked God, ‘Please, save as much of the ranch as you can,’” Basave said. “I know every tree on that ranch. I know which ones give the most fruit and which ones struggle. I know every single one.”
The Thomas fire, which has burned through Ventura County for more than a week and entered Santa Barbara County over the weekend, had scorched 237,000 acres and was 25% contained on Wednesday.
The mammoth blaze continued to threaten Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito and surrounding areas.
On Monday afternoon, Basave, 54, was anxious as he made his way along Highway 150 toward the ranch, with its 14 acres of avocado trees, 12 acres of cherimoya trees and other fruit trees.
Basave evacuated the ranch on Dec. 6 but kept returning to take care of the property. He spent most of the last week watering trees, and spraying his trailer home and the home of the ranch owners, who were vacationing in Hawaii.
He spoke with the owners by phone. They stressed one thing: Save the ranch.
“I took care of the ranch as if it was my own,” Basave said.
“I have lived such a wonderful life at that ranch. All the memories have been happy,” he added, nearly crying.
As he got closer to the ranch Monday afternoon, he was overwhelmed by the unknown. Was his trailer still standing? The trees? How bad was the devastation?
As he pulled onto the ranch, Basave saw his trailer home still standing. His boss’s house was safe too.
Basave wept. He sent photos to the relieved property owners.
About 15% of the trees were damaged from the fire’s heat. It will be years before those recover enough to produce fruit again, he said.
Basave was grateful, but saddened by the loss of neighbors’ homes in the neighborhood.
At the ranch, Basave’s gaze lingered over a tire swing that hung from a tree. His children used to play there. He thought of his life on the ranch, of his parents, who died years ago. He broke down and began to pray.
“I was just thanking God,” Basave said. “I was telling him: ‘Thank you for saving our home. Thank you for the firemen who kept the fire away.’
“In that moment, all those memories came flashing back. I was sad and happy.”
Times staff writer Hailey Branson-Potts contributed to this report.