[Healeys] Spring Fire in Newbury Park, California

Bert Van Brande bertvanbrande at yahoo.com
Fri May 3 23:33:11 MDT 2013

It's been a crazy couple days... it all started with a careless driver tossing
a cigaret out of a car on the 101 at the Conejo incline yesterday morning at a
moment when we had Santa-Anna winds. These winds come from the north-east
inland and as they speed up through the canyons they heat up.  Temperatures
rose yesterday by 20-30 degree Fahrenheit and humidity dropped from 80% to
single digit. In no time this fire spread to Camarillo and the Dos Vientos
community in Newbury Park where the Sycamore Canyon Elementary and Middle
school and the high-school needed to be evacuated. So my wife picked up
Benjamin and Helena and brought a couple friends to our house to shelter until
things cleared on the other side of the community.  No houses were lost due to
amazing fire crews.

>From there the fire raced down to the pacific ocean about
8 miles away. On the way down the California State University Channel Islands
needed to be evacuated.  This used to be a Mental institution (nothing
changed, right?)  and rumored to be the Hotel California from that same Eagles
song.  ...You can check in every time of day but you can never leave... By
night time the fire reached the ocean and started to spread east towards
Malibu and threatened the Pt Mugu Naval base.

Late morning the winds turned
from NE to SW and the fire now headed straight back to our home.  It was
moving away from us the day before.  I raced back from work to make sure
everyone was ok and that we were prepared. A dark ominous cloud came right
over us and ashes started to rain down. The air was barely breathable. My son
Alex came over to help and we closed all vents with aluminum flashing and foil
tape. This is where glowing embers usually get sucked into attics. I called a
tow company and my Austin-Healey BN2 "Work in Progress" was brought to a safe

With our important documents ready in a plastic box, our photo albums,
external hard-drive and some necessities we were ready to go on an instant.
The fire had reached the west side of Hidden Valley right behind us. This
valley is home to some celebrities like Tom Selleck and Chris Rock. Sean
Connery is selling his ranch there and Britney Spears live on the east side of
this valley!  There are a lot of huge ranches in Hidden Valley and our
ex-neigbor trains thorougbred jumpers there.  This is just over the hill
behind us probably just half a mile away.  Late pm West Hidden Valley was
under voluntary evacuation, people and horses were brought into safety but
again no houses lost. 

And then late afternoon the wind kept turning to a
south wind and slowed down, this breeze brought cold air from the ocean and
humidity. And so this dark cloud started to drift away and the fire started to
somewhat subside. The firefighters are focussing their efforts now around
Yerba Buena road in Malibu but we could still see spot fires on nearby hills
so things are not completely over yet. It can be 10 days or so before it's all
clear and the fire called 100% contained.  About an hour ago firemen are
setting controlled fires on the ridge right above us to clear away the "fuel".
My family is still in stand-by but we're all safe and as much prepared as we
can be. If the wind does not pick up tomorrow and temperatures keep dropping
then our community has a chance to come through almost unscathed although the
hills and mountains 360 degrees around us are blackened.  28000 acres of
scorched earth so far. We've seen more birds and insects around the house this
afternoon and there are mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes and mule-deer
in the hills and valleys behind us. I hope they found safety in the mountains
to the east. But after all fire is part of the cycle of nature here and some
of the seeds actually need the heat to break open to let new seedlings grow. 
Tomorrow 2 Hercules C130J firefighting planes will join the battle, ironically
they are stationed only 5 miles from the fire in Port Hueneme Naval Base.
Crews are preparing them for their task, but the real unsung heroes are those
915 firefighters with their boots on the ground, coming from all over
California to keep this community safe.  We cannot thank them enough.


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