Cal­i­for­nia city reel­ing from mass shoot­ing be­sieged by fire

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - WEATHER - By Jonathan J. Cooper and Brian Melley

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 — in­clud­ing some celebri­ties — 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, the spasm of vi­o­lence jolted the city’s sense of se­cu­rity. En­croach­ing flames, de­spite the near-con­stant threat of fire in the bone-dry state, pre­sented an en­tirely dif­fer­ent hazard.

“It’s dev­as­tat­ing. It’s like ‘wel­come to hell,’” res­i­dent Cyn­thia Ball, said about the duel dis­as­ters out­side the teen cen­ter that is serv­ing as a shel­ter for evac­uees. “I don’t even know what to say. It’s like we’re all walk­ing around kind of in a trance.”

A day ear­lier, the fa­cil­ity had been the lo­ca­tion where griev­ing fam­ily mem­bers had gath­ered and re­ceived the grim news on the fate of loved ones who had not re­turned from the Border­line Bar and Grill, where a Ma­rine com­bat vet­eran went on a shoot­ing ram­page Wed­nes­day be­fore ap­par­ently killing him­self.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into what drove Ian David Long, 28, to kill was con­tin­u­ing even as the city about 40 miles (64 kilo­me­ters) from Los An­ge­les 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 gusts top­ping 60 mph (96 kph).

The fa­cade of the “West­ern Town” at Paramount Ranch, a pop­u­lar film­ing lo­ca­tion, ap­par­ently burned down, the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains Na­tional Re­cre­ation Area said in a tweet.

The en­tire city of Mal­ibu — home to Hol­ly­wood stars and en­ter­tain­ment moguls — was un­der a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der and had lost power in places. Flee­ing res­i­dents jammed 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, flames creep­ing down a hill­side were vis­i­ble from the teen cen­ter on Janns Road — named for the fam­ily that orig­i­nally de­vel­oped the hilly ter­rain cov­ered with ma­jes­tic Cal­i­for­nia oaks into what has be­come a bed­room com­mu­nity of 130,000.

Evac­uees de­scribed har­row­ing es­capes from flames that picked up un­ex­pect­edly Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

At the Val­lecito mo­bile home park for se­niors, the fire came so quickly that res­i­dents had no time to gather med­i­ca­tions and doc­u­ments. With flames bear­ing down, fire­fight­ers car­ried peo­ple from homes and put them in empty seats of their neigh­bors’ cars, said Carol Napoli, 74.

Napoli left with her friend, the friend’s son and her 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.’”

Rich McMillen, 72, had put a few be­long­ings in his car when he no­ticed smoke pick­ing up and saw flames in the dis­tance. By the time a cell­phone alert told him to evac­u­ate, the flames were nearly upon the trailer park, burn­ing on a hill­side.

“You could feel the heat from the flames,” said McMillen, who re­turned Fri­day and found his home in­tact but stink­ing of smoke.

While evac­uees ar­rived at the teen cen­ter, firetrucks staged across the street at a com­mand post.

Ven­tura County Su­per­vi­sor Peter Foy made a plea at a fire news con­fer­ence to res­i­dents to help their neigh­bors dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate every­body’s ef­forts and kind prayers for all the peo­ple from our vic­tims that lost their lives in the shoot­ing to now what’s hap­pen­ing with peo­ple los­ing their homes,” Foy said.

A sec­tion of U.S. High­way 101, the main link be­tween Los An­ge­les and Ven­tura and Santa Bar­bara, was closed be­cause of fire.

The day be­fore un­der clear skies and no smoke, thou­sands gath­ered along the free­way to watch a mo­tor­cade car­ry­ing the body of a sher­iff’s deputy who was killed when he rushed in to con­front the shooter.

Melley re­ported from Los An­ge­les. As­so­ci­ated Press Writ­ers Amanda Lee My­ers and John Antczak in Los An­ge­les con­tributed to this story.

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