by James Francis Gray
Driving home from Camarillo after my writer’s group meeting Monday evening, I heard about the Thomas Fire on the 9:00 p.m. radio news. A fast-moving fire that started in Santa Paula’s Steckel Park area at 6:30 p.m. was headed west toward the city of Ventura, racing to the hills above the city with breakneck speed.
I arrived home some fifteen minutes later to flashes of light in my neighborhood. Small electrical transformer explosions knocked out the power and the electricity went on and off. Helicopters clattered overhead. The winds kicked up and just after ten, I was trying to catch up with the local TV news about the impending disaster. And then our area was plunged in total darkness.
Getting to sleep with the howling winds and helicopter noise was impossible. I peeked out the bedroom window to the north and saw the moonlit night and the red fire glow. Across the 126 freeway, the hillside was ablaze in bright orange flames. Soon, the stench of burning brush and buildings forced me to close all the windows. Still, I could not sleep.
After dawn, I received a call from a friend, Sheila Lowe, asking if everything was okay in my neighborhood. She and another friend, Marta Alvarez, were hunkering down at Sheila’s eastside home after spending the night in Marta’s office on Morse Avenue in Ventura.
Having received a call before midnight from Marta’s landlord warning of the fire danger, Marta and Sheila had gone to the residence with two flashlights and retrieved the necessities needed for an overnight stay. They rushed around picking up a few items including a carry-on suitcase still packed from a recent business trip. It contained one pair of yoga pants, one pair of jeans, two T-shirts, pajamas, three sets of underwear, one pair of boots, two scarves and a toiletry bag. The hillside flames were moving down the hill toward the house–a terrifying scenario. Joining a line of neighborhood vehicles, they couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
The following morning, Marta ventured back to the Avenue in time to see the garage catch fire. She watched her home go up in flames and her recreational toys: a standup board, a kayak and two quad motorcycles along with a trailer.