Monster firestorm

The fireplace was all that remained.

by James Francis Gray

One tentacle of the Thomas fire started in the Koenstein Road neighborhood in upper Ojai with a blown transformer just after 6:30 p.m. Monday, December 4th, 2017. Gusts of fifty mile-an-hour winds whipped the sparks across the landscape destroying many homes, outbuildings and cars. Only a few homes could be saved.

I witnessed the destruction at Beatrix (Trixi) Scantlin’s property three weeks later. Trixi had shared the main house, built over forty years ago, with her son, Mark Scantlin and his wife, Debbie. Trixi’s younger sister, Erika Lohrenz lived in a Mobile home on the property near their horse corral.

When they spotted the orange glow of the rapidly-approaching fire, they decided to take immediate action and evacuate. They moved their two horses to the top of the hill. In wind so strong it was a struggle to stay on their feet, they got the three cats and a dog to the relative safety of their vehicles. Using flashlights, loaded essentials into two cars, Mark and Debbie’s truck and travel-trailer, then began the terrifying journey down the mountain, caravanning to Highway 150. At Summit School they stopped and watched the fire move closer. At 9:00 p.m. they drove to the Humane Society in Ojai, where they left the cats in safekeeping, then stayed the night in the parking lot.

In the morning the family found themselves in heavy traffic for hours as they made their way to the Port Hueneme Naval Base RV Park where they took up residence in Mark and Debbie’s travel-trailer and a rental travel-trailer.

Mark Scantlin is a fire captain for Federal Fire, stationed on San Nicholas Island.

Bad news arrived in the morning. Everything on the property had burned to the ground. Thankfully, the horses and George, aka Lonesome George, their emu, survived, but sadly, the chickens and peacock did not.

The next several days were chaos, but with strong determination the Scantlins and Erika began the arduous task of putting their lives back together.

They established a camping site named Camp Phoenix higher up on their property. Two travel-trailers, a large wooden table between the two, and a decorated Christmas tree now adorn their new living space. The next order of business was to get the utilities hooked up. After Mark got the power from a generator, he primed their well, over a quarter of a mile away down the steep hillside, and laid new piping up to the campsite.

Trixi said, “When we got back home, the first thing we did was have Mark replace our flag.”

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