On December 2nd the NOAA issued a red flag warning for Ventura County, California.  It warned of wind gusts of 50 to 70 Mph., expected to blow non-stop for 12 to 18 days, following a record drought.  Two days later, a fire broke close to an SCE power station near St. Thomas Aquinas College.  The Thomas Fire was propelled by the winds and withing hours a wall of flame closed on Ojai at an estimated speed of 30 Mph, overwhelming the 70 strike teams that the Ventura County fire department dispatched to stop it.  The blaze surrounded Ojai on three sides, but miraculously roared past our town.

This was the view from our driveway on December 6th.  Our neighbor is evacuating his family.

    It burned for weeks.  It has been responsible for two deaths, has destroyed at least 750 homes, and has burned about 425 square miles (1,100 square kilometers).  Losses were estimated at $1.8 billion, and the cost of fighting the fire was 230 million dollars.  At the time it was the largest in California history, but has since been surpassed by the climate-driven firestorms that followed.


The view from our front yard, the evening of December 5.


     My wife Jade and I spent three days in an evacuation center with 250 other refugees under mandatory evacuation orders.  We are radio amateurs (hams) and have been certified by the county to assist with emergency relief efforts.  When the ARES teams were activated, we were dispatched to the Red Cross station at Nordhoff High School.  We and other Ventura county hams kept the four refugee centers in contact with each other, passing information to and from them and the county central Emergency Operations Center.

     At midnight on the sixth we sheltered in place, surrounded by fire crews as the flames came to within two miles of us.  When we finally returned home, we were relieved to find it intact.  Many of our friends and neighbors were not so lucky. They returned to find their homes had been reduced to smoking piles of ash.


The Card

   I took the background photo for the card on the evening of the 9th.  I used my trusty old Nikon D80 on a tripod, with a 200mm zoom at full extension.  By then the tide of fire had moved on, leaving "hot spots" behind.  Most firefighters were out of town by then, trying to get ahead of the fire, which was rampaging into Santa Barbara county. It is a night view of the north side of Sulphur Mountain, still scary even though there actually wasn't much left to burn. As a nasty farewell, the Thomas Fire left a cloud of toxic smog in its wake.  It made me and my wife ill, and sent others to the hospital.

    Santa and company were assembled from various clipart, squeezed, stretched, colorized, shaded and superimposed. We had to scramble to make post office deadlines, because the mail had been shut down by the disaster.


Going home:  December 9th.  Left to right: Ken Williams, KI6VDT; 
Red Cross volunteer manager Judy Oberlander, Jade Smith KI6VFQ, Wayne Francis, W6OEU.


     The lessons were clear: 

          --Be thankful for what you have.  You won't have it forever, and it can disappear overnight.

          --Global warming is no joke. With hurricanes or forest fires, we are all in the same boat.

          --Common people show uncommon courage and forbearance when faced with a common enemy.


     We hope you have a happy, peaceful and a safe New Year.



Photo by Jade Smith

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