A Chicago Gal Experiences the California Wildfires

Note from Zanne: The Thomas Wildfire began December 4, 2017, and burned 440 square miles across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties until it was contained on January 12th. It is the largest wildfire in modern California history. Over 8,500 firefighters were mobilized to fight the fire, and it cost over $177 million. Due to the intensity of the fires, the core foot systems underground were also destroyed. The ensuing winter rains washed the loose soil and ash causing massive mudslides to occur in the area destroying hundreds of homes and causing at least 20 additional fatalities.

Our backyard during the Sand Canyon fire 2016

One of my favorite things about living in Southern California is the ability to jump in the car and within 90 minutes be at any one of the various beaches or hit the mountains. It wasn’t the winter weather that kept me from two of my favorite places, Ventura and Santa Barbara, but the destruction that swept through in the early week on December. First, the Thomas Fire on December 4th and then the Creek Fire and Rye Canyon wildfires came.  The Rye Canyon wildfire occurred early on my birthday.  I was working from home, and my kids started texting me photos of smoke rising over their schools.  I switched from trying to figure out where to eat my birthday dinner to looking at all possible escape routes while avoiding the other wildfire evacuation routes all over the LA area.  When the wildfire began to spread, I made the decision to pull my kids out of school and have them here with me, since the fire was miles away and the strong Santa Ana winds were unpredictable. Neighborhoods all over our valley lost power and in the ensuing chaos, I stood in line with the other parents for over an hour pulling my kids out of school to prepare for the worst.

Driving home on the 5 freeway I could see the smoke from the Sand Fire rising up over the mountains 30 miles away

Remember, I am an Illinois gal.  Before I moved to Los Angeles, I lived in Plainfield, Illinois, where one of the most destructive  F5 tornadoes ravaged our city. But, earthquakes and wildfires? This gal has no clue.  Just a few weeks after we moved into our home in Santa Clarita, the Sand Canyon wildfire hit and ash began raining down in our backyard, like light snowfall flurries.  Then we watched the Placerita Canyon fire in June 2017, and the Castaic Fire later that summer.  I started to become both fearful and fascinated with the battle between the bravery and fortitude of our emergency responders and the strength and stubbornness of the fires.  Over the last year, I’ve become accustomed to seeing the black smoke and white plumes from wildfires pop up outside my LA office window. But like you, the national news coverage of the menacing Skirball fire burning along the 405 freeway froze me in my tracks.  Seeing the immense devastation of the Thomas fire just can’t be captured in words or photos, how can anyone try to describe that much loss? Loss of human lives, loss of wildlife and loss of nature’s beauty.

The Ventura Botanical Gardens in October 2017, before the Thomas Fire

I will admit that I cried when I saw that the beautiful Ventura Botanical Gardens, where I just went hiking, were destroyed. The gorgeous rolling hills and peaks along the 126 highway were now black. The mighty hills in all their Californian majesty aflame, and then creating mudslides to close the 101 for weeks. Part of the healing is to go, to see, to grieve but more importantly to support the communities. Included here are photos of not just the impact of the wildfires, but our recent visit this weekend and previous visits that still embrace my love for California.

Cruising down the PCH towards Santa Barbara

The next set of stories will journal my adventures as I spontaneously made a road trip up the coast on Sunday. Some of the people that I met, places that I discovered, and more adventures that await.  I’m looking forward to going back and seeing more and learning more and supporting the communities as they try to rebuild.

View my photo gallery below for photos taken right from my backyard, as well as some photos of impacted areas taken before and after the fires.

If you would like to share your story or photos of your personal experience with the recent California wildfires, please contact us at [email protected]

Hiking through the Ventura Botanical Gardens and the beautiful landscapes, before the Thomas Fire
The Ventura Botanical Gardens, before the Thomas Fire
Zanne, viewing the Ojai Valley, before the Thomas Fire
Ojai Valley before the wildfires
Some of the blackened hills I drove past on the 101 resulting from the Thomas fire
Some of the blackened hills I drove past on the 101 resulting from the Thomas fire
Some of the blackened hills I drove past on the 101 resulting from the Thomas fire
Some of the blackened hills I drove past on the 101 resulting from the Thomas fire
Some of the blackened hills I drove past on the 101 resulting from the Thomas fire
Untouched by the Thomas Fire
A photo I took of the Santa Paula and Fillmore area before the wildfires
Looking out my office window to be surprised by a wildfire in Burbank in July 2017


Zanne is the Founder, Editor, Administration, and Publisher of WhereGalsWander along with the title of Chief Trouble Maker. Blame her for everything.

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