Category Archives: Fire Info

REMEMBERING ~

The Thomas Fire

by Patrick J. Treacy

The Thomas Fire started on the Fourth of December two thousand seventeen. It became the largest Venturans ever had seen.

The Santa Ana winds were hot and strong, and swiftly moved the fire along.

Soon the canyons roared as trees buckled and swayed, houses were burning and crashing down and soon in piles of rubble lay.

Embers and cinders were flying hundreds of feet in the air, then raining down like thunder, showers of red hail, spreading the fire at a speed that was rare.

One lady died in her haste to get away, as thousands were ordered to evacuate and were rushing to centers where they would be safe.

The famous Poinsettia Pavilion was about to succumb to the flames. Its caretakers Hector Andrade, Joanna Bondina, and Hector Junior, their son, decided to stay. They battled all night and all of next day, ignoring the burns and the blisters. They battled with hoses and shovels and spades, as the soles of their shoes partly melted away.

And that is the stuff of which heroes are made. The prize for their efforts-the Poinsettia Pavilion was ready for business next day.

The inferno on the mountain was a ferocious sight,

It looked more like a day time invasion of bombs and smoke

than a mountain fire on a winter’s night.

The billowing smoke was a crazy red,

And nerves were shaken with fear and dread.

Animals were seen on the city streets hopping with pain on tender feet.

It was a challenging night for the elder, the weak and the frail. Their young caregivers seemed anxious, nervous and pale.

Years of collections were lost on that night, Like old photos of grandparents holding their kids. Some lost photos of ancestors returning triumphant from war, While others lost photos of loved ones returning in caskets draped with old glory after giving their all.

Firefighter Cory Iverson died doing what he and all firefighters and police officers

do every day, risking their lives, others to save.

This young patriot died for the love of his family and commitments in life

He conquered his fear and died while on duty fighting the fire.

The Thomas Fire burned for forty days.

It caused death and destruction along the way. Property worth billions of dollars were lost to the flames.

The brush and the fuel will grow back again. The Santa Ana winds will always return. Without new regulation, when conditions are right, more houses will burn.

Keep it simple- remove all the brush, dead wood and dry fuel

a safe distance from homes then the fire cannot feed.

Update the homes in the forest to be resistant to heat,

then all wildfire tragedies in Ventura and California will all disappear.

With all of the agencies working as one,

soon Ventura will all be restored, this beautiful city between mountains and shores.

Many Thomas Fire survivors lost all their priceless belongings.

They have all disappeared like the smoke in the air and the glow in the sky.

Leaving an ache in their heart until the day they will die.

Thomas Fire Recovery – 1 Year Later

REMEMBERING

by Jeffrey Lambert, AICP, Community Development Director, City of Ventura

It was only a year ago that a fast-moving brush fire started north of Santa Paula and was pushed by strong Santa Ana winds through the City of Ventura. The fire burned for more than a month and scorched more than 281,000 acres. The impact of the fire in the City of Ventura was severe, with 524 houses and 100 apartments destroyed citywide.

Even as the Thomas Fire blazed through the city, the City Council began approving measures to help fire victims. City staff was directed to create the Thomas Fire Rebuild Permit Office at City Hall dedicated to help property owners reconstruct destroyed homes and structures. The office, staffed by a combination of City staff and contract services, has provided personalized service and one-on-one meetings for more than 475 homeowners and their design professionals.

The rebuild effort is a two-step process: first a zoning compliance certification must be obtained from the Planning Division, and second, a building permit must be issued by Building and Safety Division. To date, 274 zoning clearances have been issued, 126 homes are in plan-check and 143 homes have received building permits and are currently, or soon to be under construction. In fact, 6 homeowners have nearly completed construction and expect to be in their rebuilt homes by Christmas. The first property owners to rebuild from the Thomas Fire are likely to receive a certificate of occupancy in December.

The Thomas Fire rebuilding process is a high priority and the City Council took several important steps to institute an expedited approach. The City Council adopted the following Thomas Fire Recovery Statement early-on to guide the process: The City strives to quickly rebuild our communities to be more sustainable, more fire resistant, and consistent with current building materials and designs. We will work together to build communities, seeking to ensure new homes respect neighbors and a wider community identity. We will balance the needs for individual home styles and preferences with this desire to create and enhance our existing community images. The City will ensure the communities rebuilding continue to be served with adequate infrastructure.

Rebuilding after the fire can be a big job and every victim’s experience is different. To that end, the City of Ventura is committed to expediting the review process and helping each property owner with their unique needs. We have collectively learned a lot through this process and have noticed similarities in the property owners that worked their way through the system quickly: This process requires diligence, constant communication and a strong team that homeowners can rely on; homeowners who successfully navigated their way through rebuilding engaged a team of design and construction professionals that they enjoy and trust. To get through the process quickly, property owners with permits, stayed active in the rebuild process, attended meetings with City staff, researched features of the rebuilt home the wanted, were knowledgeable about their insurance and what it would take to complete the rebuild of their homes. Neighbors also learned from each other and spent time strengthening connections with other neighbors and the community at-large.

The City of Ventura remains committed to complete the rebuild of our community.

“Remembering the Heroics of Ventura’s First Responders”

REMEMBERING

by Deputy Mayor Matt LaVere

It is hard to believe that one year has passed since the Thomas Fire devastated our community. As I reflect on this difficult year, I am reminded of the overwhelming kindness and generosity I witnessed in response to this horrible disaster. I am also reminded of the intense community spirit that arose in many of us and which bolstered our resolve to rebuild. However, in recent days, given the heartbreaking news from last month’s Camp and Woolsey fires (where over 90 people lost their lives and 196 people are still missing), I am reminded of something else: the absolute heroics of Ventura’s first responders.

What started as a small brush fire in Santa Paula last December 4th quickly grew into a raging inferno barreling towards Ventura at speeds more than a football field-per-second. In the late evening hours, at a time when many Venturans were already asleep, the entire city then lost power just as we were learning about the nightmare heading our way. Against this backdrop, the men and women of Ventura’s police department and fire department jumped into action.

Under the cover of darkness our first responders raced to neighborhoods across the entire City to begin evacuations, from the Westside to Clearpoint, and every impacted neighborhood in between. Often battling intense heat, flames and smoke, our first responders that night evacuated over 27,000 Venturans (nearly a quarter of our City’s residents!) without the loss of a single life. As we learn more about the tragic loss of lives in other fire-ravaged communities, one can only conclude that what Ventura’s first responders accomplished on December 4, 2017 was nothing short of a miracle.

The term “hero” should not be used lightly. But given the dire circumstances they faced and the fact that they risked their lives to successfully save so many of ours, it is important that we remember Ventura’s first responders on the one-year anniversary of the Thomas Fire and recognize them as the true heroes they are!

United Way of Ventura County reflects on community support

REMEMBERING

December 4th marks the one-year anniversary of the Thomas Fire and United Way of Ventura County looks back on a year of loss, hope and recovery.

“This Anniversary is a solemn and painful one,” said Eric Harrison, CEO, United Way of Ventura County. “While our hearts go out to so many that were affected in our communities, we were and are grateful for the opportunity to provide direct financial assistance to most of those impacted through the United Way Thomas Fire and Flood Fund.”

Shortly after the blaze began, United Way of Ventura County established a fund to assist impacted residents and soon joined efforts with United Way of Santa Barbara County. The fund went onto be reestablished as the United Way Thomas Fire and Flood Fund and raise $4.6 million.

“The response from near and far in support of the Fund was overwhelming and so meaningful,” said Harrison. “People wanted to help in any way they could. We even received over 6,000 text and online donations through our mobile giving campaign.”

In Phase I of disbursement, United Way distributed prepaid credit cards through American Red Cross $375,000. Each prepaid card was for $500 and went to residents whose homes were destroyed by the Thomas Fire, without any income limits.

As part of Phase II, United Way distributed $779,520 to 281 applicants who requested individual hardship assistance and an additional $300,000 in assistance via pre-loaded bank cards to 212 immigrant farm and service workers affected by the fire assisting more than 1,000 family members. Eligible applicants for both  were Ventura County residents, and household income limits were determined by family size of 120% AMI or less.

In Phase III, United Way sent $1,500 from the Thomas Fire and Flood Fund to 527 households whose homes were destroyed or majorly damaged, as classified by FEMA and CAL FIRE. This phase could potentially exceed $1 million.

In the current Long Term Recovery Phase IV, United Way is working with the Long Term Recovery Group and their case management process to assist households who do not have adequate personal resources for basic needs because of the disaster. This includes assessment and verification of need, planning to achieve recovery goals, advocacy, and connecting clients with community support.

“We know that the Long Term Recovery Group is best positioned, along with other partnering groups, to direct the disaster case management to provide the support needed in long term recovery,” said Harrison. “We’ve designated approximately $1 million from the Thomas Fire and Flood Fund for the Long Term Recovery efforts to address these needs.”

Another $1.1 million has gone to United Way of Santa Barbara County to assist in the recovery efforts of our neighbors.

Since 1945, United Way of Ventura County has advanced the common good by creating opportunities for a better life for all. Our focus is on education, income and health, because these are the building blocks for a good quality of life. We support local services and programs that are more than just ‘stop gap’ measures, but rather solutions that help create lasting change. We invite everyone to be part of the change by giving, advocating and volunteering. When we work together in common purpose, we live united. For more information about United Way of Ventura County, visit www.vcunitedway.org.

REMEMBERING ~ Serra Cross Park

On a beautiful Sunday, Dec.2 a dedication was held at Serra Cross Park located in Grant Park to celebrate the repairs made after the Thomas Fire destroyed the area. It featured great jazz by the Cabrillo Middle School Jazz Band and welcomes by Deputy Mayor Matt LaVere, Chief of Police Ken Corney, Fire Chief David Endaya and others. Citycouncil Member Christy Weir was the moderator and Councilmember Cheryl Heitmann was there to greet those attending as were other dignitaries. Fr. Tom Elewaut from the Mission San Buenaventura gave a blessing to the Park. Several painting by local artists were bid on at the silent auction to raise money for upkeep. New landscaping, and grass made the area look as good as it did prior to the Thomas Fire. Even though the area is now usable Grant Park remains closed, but, by reservation Serra Cross is available for private events.

The Serra Cross Conservancy encourages everyone to enjoy the park and welcomes events ranging from family picnics to educational field trips to weddings and memorial services. The site, with its unique character and spectacular views, is very popular for private events. If you are interested in holding your event at the Cross contact Amber Weir at info@amberweir.com.

Serra Cross

 

REMEMBERING ~ Thomas Fire One Year Later

by  Responsible and Efficient Government (VREG)

In the weeks that followed the devastating Thomas Fire, several community meetings were held throughout Ventura. These meetings showed a united front of total cooperation and support of all City departments, County of Ventura, State of California, Cal Fire and every other state and local agency present. They committed to protecting our health and welfare.

There are hundreds of stories of the heroic efforts by individuals going above and beyond. This article is not intended to repeat the great deeds done. Ventura now needs to address the problems that became very apparent after the Thomas Fire.

One year into this rebuilding process Ventura reports that there are no families back in their homes November 29, 2018, 133 homes are approved for a complete rebuild, 410 repair permits issued, 135 rebuilt homes currently under plan check review and the city anticipates that four families will be back in their homes within the next month.

For some, this news will seem alarming. To others, this is not a surprise.

What was fact and what was rumor was challenging to sort out when it came to building guidelines, permits and plan approvals.

Sometimes doing too much can be as bad as doing too little

At one point, the Ventura City Council encouraged a fast, streamline rebuilding process which included ’homeowners would be able to rebuild and replace what they had. This became a misleading promise because few homeowners had plans on file.

Problems occurred when the City Council attempted to streamline the process. In order to to comply with the City Council’s desire to simplify the process, the city staff waived the need for a Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing Report for units less than 3,000 sq. ft. There was also public pressure to change height limits by many residences. Depending on where a homeowner was in the process of planning and design, confusion followed.

Some changes created the situations that some rebuilding projects were no longer in compliance. Any changes would likely cost homeowners’ time and money. This was contrary to the City Councils intent to streamline the process. For folks who just want to get past the nightmare and get back into their home, this became a cruel and harsh procedure.

The bottom line was that the professionals (planners, architects, and contractors) needed to be the ones to create this process. To build and occupy a custom home in one year is almost unheard of under the best of conditions.

More issues that need to be addressed

More issues need to be addressed and the sooner, the better. The November 2018 wildfires reminded Venturans that we remain vulnerable. The city needs to answer these questions:

What are the plans for more gravity flow storage water tanks for the hillside above Ventura?

What will it take to get working water pump generators working for better fire protection?

What is being done to address the lack of a better evacuation plan for the Ventura Avenue and hillside residences?

How many more firebreak roads will the city finish before the next fire threat?

Where was the local radio station that was to help direct the community on where to go and what was happening?

REMEMBERING ~ City Memorial Ceremony

On Monday, December 3, the City of Ventura held a ceremony in observance of the one-year anniversary of the Thomas Fire. The ceremony was held on the front steps of Ventura City Hall proceeding the regularly scheduled City Council meeting.

Comments were made by Deputy Mayor Matt LaVere and Fire Chief David Endaya, followed by a moment of silence to remember those who lost their lives. Traditional bagpipe music was played by the Ventura City Firefighters Pipes & Drums Corps. Handheld battery candles were held to show support and reflect the strength of our community.

Remembering the Fire ~ City Memorial Ceremony

Thomas Fire homeowners have understandable anxiety

REMEMBERING

by Bruce Labins Architect

We have a deep admiration for our Thomas Fire clients’ strength, patience, and positivity throughout the design, permitting, and rebuild process. They have had the hardest of years, but in every instance have embraced the ‘new vision’ of their home and are looking forward.

Thomas Fire homeowners have understandable anxiety about rebuilding and meeting zoning ordinances, regulations, code upgrades, time delays and more. In every case, our clients have been able to rebuild not only what they had, but make significant improvements to design, life safety, and energy efficiency of their home. City Planning and Building and Safety worked diligently to make these accommodations. That’s our City.

City of Ventura Community Development Director, Jeffrey Lambert, partnered with his network of city planners and local design professionals to create the Planning Pre-Review submittal process. This significantly streamlines their review process upon submittal to plan check. With thorough preparation of submittal exhibits, our experience with the process and professionals involved has been 100% positive. That’s our City.

City of Ventura Building Official, Yolanda Bundy, is likely the first building authority a Thomas Fire homeowner will meet. When we submit our drawings to plan check, Yolanda greets each of our clients with a direct look in their eyes, asking them how they are doing and reassuring them that the City will make the process smooth and timely. She gives each homeowner a thoughtful touch on the arm or a hug. That’s our City.

Yolanda Bundy initiated with her team of plan checkers a Thomas Fire expedited plan check procedure. She established a 14-day plan check turn around. Her Team have met or reduced that time in our numerous plan checks. During our re-submittal, Yolanda has personally reviewed our drawings on the spot to further expedite the permit. That’s our City.

The Thomas Fire was unprecedented for Ventura. Our City has rallied and extended themselves in every department. They have worked incredibly hard with dedication, professionalism, and thoughtfulness. We are grateful to each of them.

805.641.2310 bruce@brucelabins.net brucelabins.net