Ventura County under siege: ‘It was like watching Rome burn’ – Los Angeles Times


The reports started coming in a little after 9 p.m. Monday. A fire had erupted amid the oaks and scrub in the hills north of Santa Paula.

Located on the southern edge of the Sespe Wilderness, the blaze was named the Thomas fire for its proximity to Thomas Aquinas College. Within hours — its embers driven westward on the gusts of the Santa Ana winds — it had reached Ventura, a dozen miles away.

Mark Patterson, 58, and his wife, Linda, 59, woke to the sound of pounding on their front door. It was 1:15 a.m. No one was there, and at first they thought it was a prank. But then they could see flames leaping over the ridgeline to the north. Gathering with neighbors in the street, they kept vigil, and by 4 that morning, the hill was consumed.

Standing in their driveway, feeling the heat of the flames, they knew they had to evacuate. But first they drove to the church where Patterson is the lead pastor. It was safe, but there were more fires downtown, and the enormous apartment complex — Hawaiian Village, known for its views over the city to the ocean — was engulfed in flames.