Homes destroyed as fire burns toward Malibu
LOS ANGELES – At Zuma Beach, the Pacific Ocean was obscured by smoke. Horses, dogs and Southern Californians displaced by raging wildfires Friday sought refuge on the sand. The dress code called for protective face masks, not wetsuits.
In Thousand Oaks, many of those still reeling from Wednesday’s mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill fled their homes with whatever they could grab on their way to safety.
Crowded shelters turned away panicky evacuees for lack of space. Freeways were closed. Pepperdine University students – around 1,200 of them – awoke to texts ordering them to shelter in place.
People like Shirley Hertel turned on television sets in horror and watched the homes they’d fled catch fire.
“It was so surreal,” the Thousand Oaks resident said, shaken. “I left thinking everything would be OK. You don’t think your house will burn down.”
Fire officials said that more than 150 homes had been destroyed in Southern California, casualties of the Hill and Woolsey fires, blazes that barreled into Malibu and torched a destructive path through Oak Park, Thousand Oaks, Bell Canyon and other Ventura County communities.
By Friday night, wildfire was racing toward West Hills, a neighborhood at the western edge of the San Fernando Valley. At rush hour, an unknown number of homes were ablaze.
Around a quarter of a million people were under evacuation orders Friday – the entire city of Malibu; Calabasas, Agoura and Hidden Hills; the Topanga Canyon area and three-quarters of Thousand Oaks. More than 40,000 acres had burned. Two thousand firefighters were deployed along with more than 600 law enforcement personnel.
Fire jumped the 101 Freeway in not one, not two, but three places, said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby during an afternoon news conference, as he urged people to obey evacuation orders.
At times throughout the
IIIday, the dangerous job of firefighting was complicated further by residents who refused to leave their homes, he said. “I can only imagine the impact of being asked to leave your home. But we’re doing it for your safety.”
Arita Kronska slept through alerts that her Westlake Village neighborhood had been placed under a mandatory evacuation order. The 62-year-old only found out when her daughter called, worried, about 5 a.m.
“I’ve lived here since 1988,” she said as she stood in front of a temporary shelter in Thousand Oaks, her dog, Yoda, at her side. “This is the first time I’ve seen a fire like this.”
As she pondered what to bring to the shelter Friday morning, she eventually decided on just two things she could not live without: her passport and Yoda.
Driving through her neighborhood in the predawn darkness, the streets were eerily quiet.
“Nobody was there anymore,” she said. “It was a very strange feeling … . No people. No driving … . Like
Min those movies about the apocalypse.”
Kronska had sought refuge at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, where just 30 hours or so earlier family members had gathered to find out whether their loved ones had been murdered by a black-clad gunman.
So many tears shed in such a short time span in the low-slung tan building.
Judy Goodman fled to the center in the Friday morning darkness, too. At 1 a.m., she heard a loud crash in the living room of her Westlake Hills home. The winds were so fierce that a tree had crashed through her roof, sending shards of glass flying.
Then came the loud pounding at her front door. It was the police, telling her to leave. The fire was coming close. She grabbed socks, family photos and her dog and headed to the teen center.
“It’s just one thing after another,” she said. “I was crying all day yesterday because of the shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill, and now this happens.”
She was grateful for a safe place to rest but was distraught when she heard that her refuge was the same place that families of the Borderline victims found out their loved ones were dead.
“I can’t believe it,” she said.
Debbie Sneed-barnett and Mike Barnett live one freeway exit away from Borderline Bar and Grill. At least, they thought they still did when the sun rose Friday.
The couple and their three boys – ages 4, 5 and 11 – had spent the night in their minivan in the parking lot of the Woolsey fire evacuation center at Pierce College. Their two dogs and their cat crammed in along with them.
They’d left their home in Thousand Oaks at 3:30 a.m. and grabbed breakfast at Denny’s. It was the family’s first evacuation, and everyone was fighting a cold. Before they fled, Sneed-barnett had grabbed her son’s breathing machine and her parents’ wedding photos.