Today is the year anniversary of the Camarillo Springs Fire. This is a recap of my experience, from evacuation and an uneasy (but free) Thursday, to celebration of fire fighters and first responders.
The Springs Fire started just after 7 a.m. Thursday, May 2, 2013. It burned over 24,000 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area: from the 101 to the Pacific Ocean, from Satwiwa and Point Mugu to Sandstone Peak. It burned through vegetation and over soil I had trod before and have trod since.
Some people just want to watch the world burn
Others just want to leave when things are burning.
I woke up that morning to a text reading, “FIRE?!?!?!?!” and thought, “What.” I turned over, looked out the window, and:
At the time I lived on campus at California State University (CSU) Channel Islands (CI). I also worked as a Resident Assistant (RA). We had trained for fires in housing—popcorn bags in microwaves and fire extinguishers—but never expected a wildfire encircling the entire campus.
Having grown up with basic disaster training, I grabbed some essentials essentials—passport, birth certificate, social security card, medication, laptop, phone, chargers, wallet. During a quick shower I was called down to the common area for an emergency housing meeting.
It’s uncomfortable to breathe
At the meeting we learned there was a mandatory evacuation. We made sure all housing staff was okay, went through the evacuation and room check procedure, and how to check in with residents afterward.
By this point—10 or 11 a.m.—flames were near or on campus, and smoke and ash was making it hard to breathe.
The housing team was prepared, calm, and had full support from division administration. There were between 1000 and 1200 residents in housing and an hour later they were all gone. Which was great; I am proud to have been part of that team.
But also literally nuts!
Like, none of us were sure whether or not the school would be there the next day. If we would have places to live. What would burn. Where the fire would go.
Some people packed two, three, four suitcases and needed help getting to their cars, which like. No. A few friends tried to go back for one of their fish, which also, like. No.
A fire day is like a SoCal snow day, right!
The stress of the semester was coming to a climax. Graduation was two or three weeks away. I had continually over promised and under delivered on my capstone project; there were a handful of other essays, which I pushed off to the last minute; there were final events to plan, living arrangements to make, and the entire future of my life to consider.
This fire ended up being a mini-vacation.
I ran into my mom at Starbucks, my dad ten minutes later, and probably twenty other students and people from the school throughout the day. I drank at a friends, drank in Ventura with sociology friends, and drank at a friend’s again.
Fuck yeah fire fighters
The fire moved deeper into the Santa Monica Mountains, switched back toward Newbury Park, and ultimately burned over 24,000 acres. Very few structures were damaged, no buildings were destroyed, and no one died. It’s fucking impressive what the fire fighters and other response agencies did.
The campus and housing did not burn down.
That was amazing. It is still amazing.
My birthday that weekend I was lovingly kidnapped by coworkers to get Mexican food, had three hours of housing meetings, beer with a good friend, and a shot of Patron.
Turn down the heat, turn up the celebration
The week after the fire, there was a rally in support of and in appreciation for the fire fighters and first responders. The Ventura County Fire Chief was awarded some kind of plaque at our commencement, and it was really so awesome. When he was announced literally everyone stood up in applause. (So strange right now, I’m tearing up in a terminal at LAX thinking and writing about this.)
Fire, it’s natural, but damn
Charred manzanitas and warped aluminum cans still sit in the burn area. Wildflowers and green things sprouted up for the first time after the final two rains this season, and already the summer brown is returning. Fires are dotting around California again.
I am glad and grateful that university, county, state, federal government, and other organizations had the resources and organization to respond so quickly. I am grateful that the campus didn’t burn and was impressed that CSU Chancellor Tim White visited the campus less than 24 hours after the start of the fire. I was so impressed and proud that the campus and housing was effectively and smoothly evacuated in an hour. Twitter, Facebook, and other Social Networking Sites were awesome as disaster response tools. State and federal park service agents and other nature volunteers have come together to protect thousands of acres of burned land and recover a disturbed ecosystem.
Any way the wind blows
Things could have happened so differently. What if the wind was stronger, or blew this way instead of that? What if buildings on campus weren’t roofed in Spanish-style tile? What if the housing team was less cohesive?
But it happened this way and that’s totally fine.
So, stay safe, friends. Stay connected and aware. Help others when you can. Look out for yourself, look out for each other. I’ll do the same for you.