At the time of this writing, Dec. 6, it’s day three of the raging Thomas Fire, which began somewhat innocuously, in Santa Paula, close to Thomas Aquinas College. It grew to a fever pitch with strong winds pushing it rapidly to Ventura and Ojai. Burning through homes and dry vegetation, safety experts declared an ongoing mandatory evacuation of 50,000 people on Dec. 5. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Ventura County. The fire remains at 0 percent containment. At least 150 structures have been destroyed so far, but some estimates posit up to 400, with no end in sight. Countless personal stories of loss and fear permeate social media as our neighbor, Los Angeles County, battles its own (Creek Fire and Rye Fire), forcing the closure of Highway 405. A video of the hillside leading up to the Getty Museum on fire has gone viral.
In Downtown Ventura, the temperature outside is getting hotter, the air thick with smoke and the winds, currently at a standstill, are about to ramp up to as high as 80 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service. We are surrounded by sadness and uncertainty. The number of people that we know — who are friends, those we work with and interact with regularly — that have lost everything, keeps growing, plus the exponential loss felt by our community, by those who simply live here, is surreal. We have seen similar devastating fires elsewhere and felt sadness for those impacted, but this one is here, it’s now and it’s relentless. From the tax collector to the local promoter to the business owner and so on, story after story and innumerable pictures and videos of land and property destruction are outrageous, as if taken right out of an apocalyptic movie. Except we are living it.
But even in the thick of the smoke and sorrowful state of affairs, there is a powerful force at work — unity through compassion. While the somber pictures of ash and debris overcome our senses, there are regular recollections and current happenings of neighbors working together to stomp out embers, fire agencies coming from all over California and even Nevada to keep the fire at bay and to stop it from destroying more. We even received a private message from the fire station at Fort Carson, Colorado, asking us if there was anything they could do to help; we directed them to contact CAL FIRE. We have seen people from all walks of life — age, gender, race, socioeconomic status — coming together to volunteer throughout the community and at the American Red Cross evacuation center, plus so many more making donations and dropping off essentials to help evacuees. It seems caring simply needs an opportunity.
As we all cope with this historically tragic event, the chance to connect and care is omnipresent. While we would never suggest anyone put themselves in harm’s way, perhaps the best way to handle this fear and uncertainty is to help.