From left: Austin,17, Noah, 14, Paul and Steve Sezzi sort through the rubble of a relatives’ home after it was destroyed by the Thomas Fire in Ventura, Calif., Dec. 6, 2017. Several simultaneous wildfires in Southern California have forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and destroyed hundreds of homes and other buildings in the latest chapter of what has been one of the state’s worst fire seasons. (Photo/Hilary Swift/The New York Times/Redux)

The one-story, sturdy working-class house at 187 Nob Hill Lane in Ventura is gone. Burnt to the ground by the ravenous Thomas Fire. Father Michael Sezzi was just there a week ago visiting his 77-year-old mother. He lived there from the sixth grade through St. Bonaventure High School and until he entered St. John’s Seminary. His dad had built the cozy house in 1975-76. As a boy, the priest could look out his bedroom window and see the Camarillo Airport. And if he glanced out the front, he could take in the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Channel Islands.

“It was kind of surreal because I was just coming back from an Advent penance service up in Santa Maria,” said the administrator of La Purisima Concepcion Parish in Lompoc. “And I just had gotten asleep and my brother Vince called and said there was a fire. I knew there was a fire, but now it was really close."

“There had been fires before. We just never thought it would come this close. So my brother was there in Ventura until about 4:30 in the morning. And then it was too scary, he said, so he left. And later, when I got to my mom’s house, it was gone. The next door neighbor’s house was actively burning, but there were no fire trucks around.”

After a pause, Father Sezzi, ordained in 1996, went on: “And all the neighbors that I grew up with, basically the entire street, is gone. Only four, five houses out of 18 survived.”

Father Michael Sezzi (Photo/ Hilary Swift/The New York Times)

Steve and his wife had bought a house just two streets behind 187 Nob Hill Lane. As it happened with so many close-call fire stories, with a capricious wind being the deciding factor, their house survived while his mother’s was destroyed.

“I told my mom, ‘Why don’t you come up to my place,’ because I have a big rectory and I’m the only one living in it,” recalled Father Sezzi.

But then his brother Pete, who evacuated from Ojai, came to the rectory with his son, followed by brothers Steve and Paul showing up with their families. “So I had a full rectory,” he said with a quick chuckle.

According to the priest, his mother is doing fine. Two of her sons, his brothers, are licensed contractors.  They’re going to rebuild her house probably under the guidance of a general contractor. She doesn’t want anything fancy. Just a mirror image of the place she lost to the blaze at 187 Nob Hill Lane. A place where when the smoke clears, she can see the Channel Island right out the front.

“As soon as the National Guard lets us back, we’re gonna start salvaging some things and clearing out the property and going at it,” said Father Sezzi. “We’re building the same house again. My mom wants the same house.”