‘It won’t look like home anymore’: UC Berkeley students reflect on Southern California fires

Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times/Courtesy
VENTURA, CALIFORNIA DECEMBER 6, 2017-The Thomas Fire reaches the Northbound 101 freeway north of Ventura Wednesday threatening beachfront homes. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

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While the effects of the fires blazing across Southern California are out of sight from the Bay Area, they hit close to home for many UC Berkeley students.

Yesterday, (my mom) sent me pictures of houses across the street from her in flames right before she evacuated,” said campus junior Madison Avrea, who grew up in Oak View and Ventura, in an email. “My mom left right as her garage caught on fire.”

The Thomas Fire, which is raging through Avrea’s hometown, is the largest of five active fires burning around the Los Angeles area. The fires have burned more than 83,500 acres, according to an update from CAL FIRE on Wednesday.

“It deeply saddens me to see these pictures of the burnt down places I grew up in, places full of memories that I cherish,” Avrea said in an email. “It really just breaks my heart knowing that when I come home for the holidays, it won’t look like home anymore. And all I can do right now is watch it all happen while I’m finishing up the semester here in Berkeley.”

Campus senior Blake Knutson’s family evacuated their Ventura home Tuesday morning. When Knutson first received texts from his friends about the fires on Monday, he was not worried, but within the next three hours, his parents could see flames from their house.

Knutson tried to convince his family to leave that night, but his family moved in with friends as part of a mandatory evacuation the next morning. Knutson said that while he thinks his home will be salvaged, he is concerned for his friends nearby.

“The uncertainty of it all from being away is the worst, and getting these snapshots of burning neighborhoods,” Knutson said. “You really hope it’s not you, and then you realize that any burning house is someone’s home. … They are friends of friends, and people you know of in the community, and you know that they’ve lost their homes.”

Four Berkeley Fire Department firefighters took an engine to the Creek fire in northern Los Angeles County, joining other teams from Alameda County in mutual aid Wednesday. The Creek Fire is burning across about 11,400 acres and has zero percent containment, according to Berkeley Fire Department spokesperson Keith May.

“We’re hoping they get a handle on those fires and that everyone can come home,” May said. “We’ve put out requests to have people come to Berkeley for the Oakland-Berkeley hills fire. It’s just the mutual aid we’re part of for the whole state. … In the early days of fire, it’s really about evacuation and life safety, and the more resources you put on the incident, the faster you mitigate that incident.”

Campus freshman Makani Kirwin said her family in Ojai has opened their home to many evacuated friends.

We have nothing in Ventura and it’s not getting better,” Kirwin said. “I encourage people to look to whatever GoFundMe and other pages they can to support.”

Contact Olivia Nouriani at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivianouriani.