Ruin and Resolve in Ventura County

A photographer captures the devastation just days after the Thomas Fire ripped through the area.

I happened to be at a wedding in Ventura County on December 15, just days after the Thomas Fire scorched over 200,000 acres from there to Santa Barbara County. To say the atmosphere in town was surreal would be a huge understatement.

The sky was still a smoky red color, and you could feel the pain of significant loss from every direction. But after talking to a few Ventura County folks I had encountered along the way, I also felt an immense sense of community. Signs were posted just about everywhere expressing gratitude and love for the firefighters that battled back the flames and saved many homes, if not all. During dinner with a friend who lives there, I also heard stories about people—neighbors and strangers—reaching out to others in need of shelter, supplies or even a hug. This motivated me to document what I saw, hoping the imagery would inspire others to offer support for these people however possible.

“The Love in the Air is Thicker Than the Smoke.” This kind of signage was everywhere showing gratitude and support.

Grayback Forestry crew had just arrived from Oregon to help with the cleanup and to make sure the initial fire was under control.

5515 Foothill Road

The shack

Dan Aaron Glassman: “What to take? First thing out was my climbing gear: my two best ropes, shoes, harness, helmet and my full trad rack. Climbing is what occupies my mind and my time, nearly all the time. Even more, it is a lot of expensive gear.”

My friend Sarah mentioned a story she read in the paper about a young man who lost his home, one he rented with no renters insurance. I contacted him via Facebook.

Dan Glassman was born and raised in Ventura. He lived up Foothill Road, where many homes were lost. (All the photos I took of destroyed homes were from this one area alone.) A friend of Dan’s called him at 9:30 p.m. on December 4 and said there was a fire in Santa Paula. “I thought, ‘Wow, wild,’ and kept on working on the computer,” he remembers. “I looked at a map and realized it was close. By 10 p.m. I was deep in a mandatory evacuation zone.” With the hills aflame in gold, he knew he needed to pack, and fast. But what to take?

“First thing out was my climbing gear: my two best ropes, shoes, harness, helmet and my full trad rack,” he says. “Climbing is what occupies my mind and my time, nearly all the time. Even more, it is a lot of expensive gear. I wasn’t going to lose it.” He was packed by 11 and spent the next 5 1/2 hours walking his property and roof, hosing things down, ensuring no small embers were taking root, all the while checking he had a clear exit.

At 4:30 a.m. his neighbor’s two-story house, one lot over, torched. “From my roof, the heat was intense … the flames where 100 feet away and 60 feet tall, and the wind was howling 70 miles per hour,” he describes. “No need for headlamps, it was as bright as day. I was holding my 5/8-inch garden hose, water flowing out onto the roof. It was useless. Nothing but the ocean was going to stop this. I scrambled off the roof, looked back once more, jumped in my truck and left. I lived in my little three-bedroom house for 13 years. Nothing. NOTHING was recovered. My house is gone.”

Dan hoped sharing his photo would bring him some needed assistance. You can support Dan here. https://www.gofundme.com/dan-lost-everything-in-wildfires

For more on photographer Monica Orozco, visit demonicaphoto.com.

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