‘Welcome to hell’: after mass shooting, fire
While community reels from killings, fire burns homes, forces evacuation
LOS ANGELES — A city reeling from the tragedy of a mass shooting was under a siege of a different sort Friday as raging wildfires on both sides of the city forced evacuations and shut down part of the main freeway to town.
Flames driven by powerful winds torched dozens of hillside homes in Southern California, burning parts of tony Calabasas and mansions in Malibu and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee as the fire marched across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea. The cause of the blazes was not known.
For Thousand Oaks, which had been considered one of the safest cities in the nation before a gunman massacred 12 people at a country music bar on Wednesday, the spasm of violence jolted the city’s sense of security. Encroaching flames presented an entirely different hazard.
“It’s devastating. It’s like, ‘Welcome to hell,’ ” resident Cynthia Ball said about the dual disasters. “I don’t even know what to say. It’s like we’re all walking around kind of in a trance.”
Ball spoke outside a teen center that was serving as a shelter for evacuees. A day earlier, it had been where grieving family members gathered and received the grim news on the fate of loved ones who were killed at the Borderline Bar and Grill, where a Marine combat veteran went on a shooting rampage Wednesday before apparently killing himself.
On Friday, the city was under threat from one of three major wildfires burning in the state.
Air tankers swooped through the skies, making low passes to dump water and flame retardant as firefighters tried to protect homes amid wind gusts topping 60 mph.
The entire city of Malibu — home to Hollywood stars — was under a mandatory evacuation order and had lost power in places. Fleeing residents jammed the Pacific Coast Highway in a procession that crept along as smoke billowed overhead and mansions on the hills went up in flames.
In Thousand Oaks, evacuees described harrowing escapes from flames that picked up unexpectedly Thursday afternoon.
At the Vallecito mobile home park for senior citizens, the fire came so quickly that residents had little time to gather medications and documents. With flames bearing down, firefighters carried people from homes and put them in the empty seats of their neighbors’ cars, said Carol Napoli, 74.
Napoli left with her friend and the friend’s son and mother, who is in her 90s and had to leave behind her oxygen tank.
“We drove through flames to get out. They had us in like a caravan,” Napoli said. “My girlfriend was driving. She said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this ...’
“Her son said, ‘Mom, you have to. You have to drive through the flames.’ ”
Kenan Marting fought a fire from atop the roof of a house in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Friday. The home at left was destroyed.