California residents warned to stay vigilant in break from intense wildfires

World Today

California residents warned to stay vigilant in break from intense wildfires

In southern California, residents and firefighters are getting a rare break in conditions that have led to destructive wildfires.

But they’re being warned to stay vigilant. Up to 200,000 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes in the past six days to escape the flames. 

Cal Fire said at least 796 structures have been destroyed in the six large fires.

The state agency also said the blazes have burned up more than 70,000 hectares and could flare up again at any time.

CGTN’s Jim Spellman reports.

The smoke remains, but for the moment, the fire is mostly gone in Ventura, California, about a hundred kilometers from Los Angeles. In the eerie calm, residents are returning home and finding their homes destroyed.

A few short days ago, the Meyer family had a home in Ventura. The fire has essentially turned it into a pile of rubble. You can see remnants of what was probably the kitchen. You can see a stove there and a coffee cup. Yet just a few meters away, other homes were left untouched. Mitchell Perry fought off the flames using a garden hose.

We asked him how it felt, standing there with a garden hose protecting his home with the fire just meters away.

“Try overwhelmingly terrifying,” he said. He watched as the intense flames tore through the hills surrounding his home. “It’s probably the scariest experience I’ve ever had. Certainly the closest experience I’ve ever had up close and personal with fire. We’re talking fire everywhere. This whole ravine was on fire. These trees just exploded, and we were there with garden hoses trying to keep things from catching.”

Firefighters put out burning embers at the Los Padres National Forest north of Ojai, California on December 8, 2017.
Unrelenting winds fanned towering flames in southern California, where hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee multiple devastating fires in the Los Angeles area and new outbreaks near San Diego. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN

Firefighters are out looking for smoldering embers or hot spots that could erupt into flames. Nearby, a stable burned to the ground, but the owner got the horses out in time.

Aurora Rangel returned to her home to discover the fire had destroyed her neighbor’s home and her tree and garage, but spared her house.

“It was very shocking. My neighbors were still looking around to see if anything had been saved from their homes, and it was amazing to see that our house was still standing and nothing had happened,” she said.

Some homeowners say they will rebuild. Others are not so sure. Many will be rebuilding a whole new life.

“It’s horrible to see that most of them were only able to get out with the clothes they were wearing,” Rangel said.

It will likely be months or even years before this community feels like home again.