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Thomas Fire blazes through Ventura County

Raiders among those affected by Thomas Fire

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On the night of Monday, Dec. 4, the Thomas Fire struck Ventura County, beginning in the city of Santa Paula and extending all the way to Santa Barbara. The fire reached a whopping 281,900 acres. The blazing inferno resulted in over 1,063 demolished structures within Ventura, Santa Barbara and Ojai.

Among the structures destroyed in the fire was the rental home of English teacher Ms. Mujde Pidduck.

She, her husband, and her two 3-year-old twin children had only 15 minutes to evacuate from their Ventura home on the night of Dec. 4.

“Our stress and fear levels further increased when we saw the traffic on our street, Via Ondulando, all the way down to Foothill and Victoria,” Ms. Pidduck said, adding she witnessed cars nearly colliding into one another in order to escape from the danger zone. “It was a scene that could only be seen in apocalyptic movies. The whole 30 minutes is seared in our minds forever.”

The following morning, she received a message from a neighbor saying that her home was burnt in the flames.

In the meantime, Ms. Pidduck and her family are temporarily staying at a family home that was furnished and available for them before the fires started.

As for her future plans, Ms. Pidduck was approved for a sabbatical – a period of paid leave for a teacher to study – and intends on taking a year off with her family starting this June. Despite the many obstacles they have faced, she and her family are gradually rebuilding their new lives after the Thomas Fire.

“We feel violated, hurt, displaced, and traumatized,” Ms. Pidduck said, “but the most important thing is that we are safe and have each other. There is only moving forward from this.”

Another teacher who was affected by the fire was Mr. David Cole, who had to evacuate with his wife and mother-in-law from their home in Ventura. To his surprise, their house was not burnt in the fire.

“We were the only hillside community in Ventura that was not burnt down,” Mr. Cole said.

On the first night of the fire, Mr. Cole received a text message from a friend pertaining to the fire in Santa Paula. At 11:30 p.m. that night, his neighbor was worriedly banging on the door. Once the flames jumped over the hill, Mr. Cole and his family went into panic mode.

“My first thought was to save our cats,” Mr. Cole said, who possesses six black cats. “It took us 45 minutes to herd them into our car. All our neighbors were gone by the time we left our house.”

Because of the influx of families fleeing their homes in Ventura, Mr. Cole and his family were stuck in traffic for over an hour. After futile efforts to find a hotel in which to sleep during the night, he and his family parked at a well-lit parking lot near Woodland Hills and fell asleep at 4 a.m. the following day.

Upon returning to an intact home several days later, Mr. Cole felt immediate shock.

“It definitely took a while for joy,” he said.

At the Oxnard College Gymnasium – one of the local evacuation shelters – students from the Islands volunteered for the Red Cross to lend a helping hand to displaced families. Raiders assisted with serving food to evacuees, taking inventory of all the donations, and transporting all the donations inside the gymnasium.

Leslie Pulido, co-president of California Scholarship Federation, was one of the many Raiders volunteering at the gymnasium. Pulido’s favorite moment of volunteering at the evacuation shelter was playing with the little kids, who evacuated from Santa Paula.

“They were still smiling, even though they were going through a tough time,” she said.

Lt. Cesar Romero – supervisor for the Ventura County Community College Police Department for 15 years – was one of the many police officers within the Oxnard College Gymnasium during the first week of the fire.

“Oxnard College has been great working together with the Red Cross,” Lieutenant Romero said. “We are planning on having up to 450 evacuees in the college’s facilities.”

On Feb. 3, the Bank of the Sierra will be hosting a Thomas Fire Benefit Festival at the Plaza Park in Downtown Ventura. All proceeds will benefit those affected by the fire.

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