Multiple wildfires continue to wreak havoc in coastal Southern California. Covering 96,000 acres at the time of this article’s publication according to the LA Times, the “Thomas” fire that broke out near Ventura County earlier this week is currently the most widespread, threatening at least 12,000 homes. Also in danger is Sylmar, a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, and Bel-Air, where the “Skirball” fire has so far destroyed four homes.
Within Ventura, approximately 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, is the small SoCal city of Ojai, which is battling its fourth and toughest day of fires whipped up by powerful winds. Most residents have evacuated the town now surrounded by a ring of flames.
Realtor Nora Davis, a Coldwell Banker agent and leader of the Davis Group, is one of the few still in Ojai. She’s been kindly taking in the horses, chickens and goats of her clients, neighbors and complete strangers at her Creek Road, Ojai ranch this week and successfully transported a good number of the horses out of danger to her brother’s ranch.
A specialist in ranch property, Davis, who evacuated earlier in the week and then came back, has been getting from clients asking her to check on their properties and animals. With no internet, she is texting them with updates.
Davis is developing a routine of combing through an area after a fire has run its course.
“After it moves, I go in and check — upper Ojai I went and checked yesterday and it’s devastating up there,” she said. “Closer to town and going out to the west of Ojai, that’s where it’s worse.”
Born and raised in Ojai, Davis said the Ventura County town that burned down in the 1920s is being offered substantial support from emergency authorities.
“We have a lot more help than two days ago. We have Cal Fire and the National Guard now and with more help we are hoping they can get a better handle on it,” she said.
The Ojai Community Thomas Fire Network Facebook group was proving to be a helpful resource where people who hadn’t evacuated were posting photos and updates for others.
One Ojai resident posted to the group:
“I know everyone wants to get home but please stop saying it’s safe to come home when you’re still In a mandatory evacuation area. The firefighters know what they are doing, it is literally the job they are trained for … The air is not healthy to breathe, the winds could shift, and what happens when flames are moving faster than cars because everyone is once again evacuating all at once? Save your lives, save the lives of your pets, save the lives of others, listen to the firefighters, and stay away. stay safe.”
Davis says she is always very honest with clients looking to buy in Ojai.
“I tell them: We are a low valley surrounded by mountains; we do have fires and we do have floods,” she said.
The fires come on the heels of a brutal firestorm that overtook the North San Francisco Bay in October and ravaged areas of Sonoma and Napa counties.
Davis also advises clients to keep their homes clear of brush and to know the routes in and out by heart.
That line of thinking seems to be wise, as the Los Angeles Police Department reportedly put out a warning today to those around L.A., not to rely on navigation apps, because they were in some cases directing people toward danger.
“The Los Angeles Police Department asked drivers to avoid navigation apps, which are steering users onto more open routes — in this case, streets in the neighborhoods that are on fire.” https://t.co/I3sICDIF4A
— Joel Rubin (@joelrubin) December 7, 2017
Watching from a beach house in Gaviota, evacuated long-term Ojai resident Martha Fellows, an agent with Century 21 Troop Real Estate, said that a little over 20 miles away from Ojai, the Ventura county city of Fillmore as well as Carpinteria, a small oceanside community in Santa Barbara, were also in danger.
“I have a client who I sold a house to in the foothills of Fillmore and that house in the danger area,” she said.
Fellows said that the fires this week mark the worst ever in Ojai, a town with a permanent population of just over 7,500.
“The last bad one was in 1985, but this is not like anything we’ve ever seen, this is at a whole new level,” she added.
Relocated out of danger, Keller William’s Tonya Peralta, who is staying in touch with her Ojai community, had a busy day ahead working with the handful of people she knows who are still in Ojai to help field questions from her clients.
“I have clients in Ventura who lost their house, I’m trying to find rentals for him,” she said. She was checking on the state of an Ojai neighborhood for a client and was able to reassure her that the area was OK.
December business is just going to have to take a back seat for now. “At the moment, we were supposed to have three closings this week. That’s been derailed until we know if they are alright,” Peralta said. Two out of three of the listings are located in mandatory evacuation areas, so Peralta was being realistic.
Fellows still had no doubts that Ojai would manage whatever happened and bounce back. “Ojai has got a rich and varied history,” she said. “There’s ranchers, edge-pushing religious and intellectual thinkers, there’s a huge range, but we live together and we get along.”