Like an unexpected punch in the face, one that busts the nose, blackens the eyes and puts a certain chill down the spine, making the bruised wonder how in the world that just happened, the Thomas Fire has left the residents of Ventura County — specifically those in Santa Paula, Ojai, Ventura and north county — beyond rattled and worn. Those residents who lost everything, both renters and homeowners, go back and forth between deep sorrow and trying to make the most of it, hoping not to lose themselves in the suddenness of total devastation.

As of Wednesday, Dec.13, helicopters with water buckets continue to fly through the air while fire personnel arrive from Arizona and Oregon at the Ventura County Fairgrounds staging area. The Thomas Fire was 25 percent contained, having burned 237,000 acres, with 921 structures destroyed and 196 structures damaged as it makes its way through Santa Barbara County. It’s the fifth largest wildfire in the state of California. The majority of homes lost (over 400) was in the city of Ventura, a sad statistic engrained in our minds.

So, what do we do now?

If there is anything we can learn, we should first start by looking to Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. We need to talk to those who live there and discuss their wins and losses. We need to see what they are doing to rebuild and how their lawmakers are addressing their problems. We need to look beyond California and at other places in the world that have been hurt in the same way by wildfires, such as Australia, and learn how to better protect ourselves to ensure this doesn’t happen again, or at least not to this degree. But first, let’s start at City Hall in Ventura.

The City Council has selected a new city manager, though the new hire’s name is under wraps for now. We anticipate a monumental task for whoever step’s into the position, but just as in Oxnard, difficult situations are a challenge worthy of taking on and the strong will carry on.

Beyond city hall, this is a unique opportunity to bring something good out of the ashes. We have a chance to rebuild not only our homes, but our sense of community. Great stories have emerged of people helping one another, of finding creative solutions to a range of problems, from addressing the hundreds of displaced and hunger to providing emotional support. We have come together in ways that only a disaster like the Thomas Fire could make happen.

Let’s keep and provide that strong sense of compassion and caring going. The time to push Ventura into the future is now — not only to be better prepared for such disasters but also to keep us a community that cares about each other.