UPDATE: “A day I will never forget” for victims of Thomas Fire


A smoking structure at the top of Lincoln Drive in Ventura, Calif. Credit: Jen Miller(used with permission)

Anna Lapteva

“I’m honestly still in shock,” Gwynnie Redemann ‘18 said regarding the drastic effects of the Thomas Fire, which is spreading at an alarming rate, engulfing numerous structures and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents in Ventura. “It is a day I will never forget.”

Starting at about 25,000 acres this morning, the fire has spread to nearly 50,000 acres—about 78 square miles—in a span of just 19 hours. The dry conditions and strong Santa Ana winds create the ideal environment for the fire, which continues to have zero percent containment.

School and work are distant concerns of Ventura residents as they battle to save their houses and families or to find shelter. Along with multitudes of others, Redemann evacuated last night at 11 p.m. when her family saw “the orange glow on the hills.” Since she lives a few streets west of Day Road, her neighborhood had a mandatory evacuation around 4:30 a.m.

“Around 8:45 this morning when I went to get a few last things from my house, a house about three up from mine was on fire,” Redemann said. “Two fire trucks and a police car came to make sure everyone was gone at that point.”

Luckily, Redemann’s house withstood the fire. However, she still could not believe that the fire “would reach Ventura, let alone nearly get to my house.”

Many others, shocked by the spontaneity of the circumstances, held this same sentiment. Nishad Pasricha ‘19 said “it was just shocking because most of the places you see on fire on TV you don’t have a connection to, but when you see a part of your town on fire, you have memories there, people there and connections there.”

The power went out at Pasricha’s house at around 10:30 p.m. last night, and he “immediately started to pack a bag just in case.”

“Around 11 [p.m.] tons of ash were blowing around,” Pasricha said, who evacuated to a friend’s house. “An older lady was coughing and hurting from all the ash around in the air, so [I] went down to go help her. After that, I finished packing the bags around 12:00 a.m. and I could see flames crawling up the side of my hill, and embers were falling on my house as I was packing the car.”

Pasricha assumed that his house would be damaged since there were intermittent sparks of fire on both sides of his housing complex. Fortunately, “the flames stopped […] due to a single fire engine battling flames,” he stated.

Sean Ward ‘18 also evacuated due to the imminent fire threat to his home, located on the skyline.

“When the power went out throughout the city, I didn’t think much of it but as the night went on, my friends informed me of the fire threat. I went outside and walked around my neighborhood [and] most people above where my house was were evacuating,” Ward recalled.

Ward and his parents packed a few irreplaceable items and left to a family friend’s home.

“[I] got a few hours of sleep and woke up anxious knowing my house would be gone. This was the mood through the morning until a neighbor informed my family that our house had been taken by the fire,” he said.

Despite the circumstances, Ward believes that he and his family will “make it through fine,” because “the house and all that was in it can be replaced.”

Justus Williams ‘21 was evacuated from his house late Tuesday night and his house burned down as well, but he is glad that he was able to get his pets and his mom out safely.

“I’ve lived in the house that burned down for the past 8 years,” Williams said. “Learning I could never go back there is extremely heartbreaking.”

Others were evacuated for safety concerns and did not suffer such extreme damages.

Annie Stevens ‘20 was mandatorily evacuated from her house, as she could distinctly see and smell smoke from her home.

“I just feel as though I’m having a nightmare,” Stevens said. “It’s devastating seeing what this fire is doing to our city and the people in it.”

The fire has done damage to a great number of families, but some like Ward believe that they can get through this adversity with “tremendous support from […] family and friends.”

“It has been a very surreal day as it all happened so quickly,” Ward said. “I guess it goes along with that phrase, anything that can happen will happen.”

What do you think?