Californians reflect after fleeing homes as fire came close

  • AP Photo/Noah Berger

    A volunteer passes supplies donated to Thomas fire evacuees in Ventura, Calif., on Wednesday.

VENTURA, Calif.— They ran for their lives by the thousands when the devastating wildfires raced across a huge swath of brush-covered Southern California hillsides, and they survived even if their homes didn’t. Some lost everything. Others returned to find their homes still standing but put in danger a second time when flames that had seemed to spare them returned, pushed back in their direction by unpredictable winds. Here are some stories of evacuees.


Steve Andruszkewicz and his neighbor Joseph Ruffner returned to their Faria Beach Colony homes just north of Ventura on Thursday to discover the flames that appeared to have spared the houses were threatening them once again.

“I thought we were done yesterday,” Ruffner said, adding he and his family returned to their home in the morning to see a wall of fire that seemed to be a safe distance away. But then it moved in, spraying hot embers onto the neighborhood.

“It’s coming back to burn what it didn’t burn yesterday,” he said.

Firefighters urged people to leave the beachfront community, where electricity was out.

“We’re leaving,” Andruszkewicz said as he and his wife sprayed palm trees with water from garden hoses first.

“We left Tuesday night and stayed down at our son’s house,” he continued. “We came back yesterday, stayed the night. (But) this has got me worried because of the blowing embers.”

Ruffner said he was staying put this time.

“I bought a generator yesterday so at least I can see on TV what’s going on,” he said.


Marolyn Romero-Sim wept as she sat on a cot at an evacuation center recounting how the modest RV her family called home was destroyed by the largest and most destructive Southern California wildfire.

“Everything is ashes. Everything. We don’t have a place to live. We lost stuff we can’t get back,” she said.

She said her husband, Hugo Romero-Rodriguez, was wracked with guilt that he couldn’t get inside to rescue anything — including their beloved little dog, Coqueta. She was trapped in a crate inside when the vehicle erupted in flames. Romero-Rodriguez suffered cuts on his leg and hand and a burn on his arm trying to get inside to save Coqueta.

“He was sitting there in the driver’s seat and he couldn’t move,” Romero-Sim said Wednesday, recalling how she, her husband and their 9-year-old daughter, Milagros, sat in their truck, watching the RV burn before finally realizing they had to flee their Ventura County neighborhood.

“He just kept watching and he feels so guilty that he couldn’t save it,” she continued. “I told him he did everything he could and he did what he had to save our lives.”

Romero-Rodriguez makes a modest living as a jewelry salesman and he lost the pearls, earrings, bracelets and watches that made up his inventory.


Rogers reported from Los Angeles. Amanda Lee Myers in Ventura and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed.


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