Santa Paula: Citizens Turn Out for Community Fire Meeting

By Sheryl Hamlin

Seating in the Santa Paula Community Center was arranged for the maximum capacity of 250 persons and it appeared to be filled on December 11, 2017.

The audience included county officials, police and fire from the various organizations, as well as concerned citizens. The meeting started at 7:00 pm and ended around 8:30 pm with 20 minutes of questions. The Ventura County Fire Department videotaped the entire meeting for subsequent display on the local information channel.

Elected officials and county staff included: CEO Mike Powers, RMA Director Chris Stephens, Supervisor Long, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, Assembly Member Monique Limon, Chief Lorenzen and the entire City Council of Santa Paula.

Senator Jackson, Mayor Gherardi, City Manager Rock

Koby Johns, Captain Fresno Fire and PIO (Public Information Officer) moderated. There were Spanish translators walking the room as well as a person signing the entire meeting.

Fire Map Overview

Chief John McNeil of Ventura County Fire Department explained the fire map, a tool used in the management of the fire. Black lines indicated contained, while red were open.

Chief McNeil said that it took only five (5) hours for the fire to move from its origins to the City of Ventura. There were two points-of-origin (PoO): 1) river bottom in the Santa Paula Creek and 2) Koenigsten area. With one confirmed death, there were 50 to 60 thousand evacuated on day 1 (Monday December 4).

The objectives, he said, were to save lives and property. In 40 hours, the fire had progressed north into the forest to the Ojai Valley. Huge mutual aid was required and arrived through CalFire.

At plus 7 days, the fire spread east to Fillmore and encompassed more than 200,000 acres. With continued hot spots, more resources will be used.


Richard Thomson, meteorologist from the National Weather Service, explained the weather patterns. He said it was his role during the fire to brief all of the crews. Sea breezes in the afternoon, then winds shifted. As of Tuesday, December 12, 2017, still “red flag” until 8:00 pm Tuesday.

Fire Behavior

VCFPD Captain Brendan Ripley, Fire Behavior Analyst, explained the three forces: vegataion, the fire fuel, topological (long term drought) elements and weather. At 25 years of growth, the dead vegetation to live vegetation ratio is bad, but no fires in 85 years in some areas, so the ratio was extremely dangerous. Read more in this interview.

As of the meeting, the fire had spread to the Santa Ynez Ridge where it threatens houses. The fire moved 12 miles on one night. There have been eight (8) consecutive days with critical measurements. Embers can be carried up to a mile, he said. The Zaca fire burned about the same acreage in 8 weeks, while Thomas took one week.

Costs and Personnel

Dave Russell, Tehama Red Bluff area, spoke of the resources deployed to the fire: 7,000 personnel costing $48.6 million. 504 homes in Ventura City were destroyed. 28 helicopters including four from the National Guard and 2 night flying helicopters were deployed. One 747 dropping 1.2 million gallons of retardant flew three flights. No fatalities or structures in Santa Paula were recorded, he said. Note, he was using strict city boundaries, not the adjacent unincorporated areas where structures were lost. As of Monday evening, the fire above Fillmore and Santa Barbara County were priorities.

Elected Officials Speak

Mayor Gherardi, who was elected during the breakout of the fire on Monday night, a week earlier. Supervisor Long thanked everyone. City Manager Rock praised the citizen involvement.

Mr. Rock also said the Southern California Edison requested limited use of energy, because they are straining to keep up the grid.

Representative Limon said there is access to resources now that Governor Brown has declared a State of Emergency. Senator Jackson thanked everyone.

Health Issues

Dr. Robert Levin, Ventura County Health Director, explained health consequences of the fire: ash, smoke air quality, cough, nose bleeds are possible. People with asthma, pregnant women, elderly and children should stay indoors or leave the area or wear N95 mask. He cautioned against putting a mask on someone unable to take it off. The car air conditioning system should be on recirculate. There is a cocci outbreak in California which the fire exacerbates. Cocci is the airborne bacteria which causes Valley Fever. He suggested vacuuming the house with a mask, gloves, long sleeves and long pants. Ash is particularly bad from homes woth asbestos, zinc, cadmium and Teflon.

Ventura County Behavioral Health

A licensed clinical social worker read a statement from Elaine Crandall, director.

Fire Debris

Resource Management Director Chris Stephens explained that fire debris must be handled property. Home debris is considered hazardous material. There are two steps: 1) remove hazardous materials, a process with which the State is helping and 2) remove remaining debris via recycling (CalRecycle). He also reminded that masks and gloves were required for such work. More detail can be found at, a portal of fire related information.

Q&A Session

Numerous questions about information on the fire were received. It was noted that CalFire has an updated map. N95 masks were available at the tables in the entry of the room.

Q1: Where can we go to find lost people?
A1: Ventura County Sheriff and the Red Cross
Q2: How to clean a yard?
A2: Hose down first, then work. Inside, use a damp cloth to dust.
Q3: Should we eat food or fruit in yard?
A3: Wash first. (Dr. Levin)
Q4: Will this presentation be repeated?
A4: Yes, in Fillmore on Thursday. Already in Ventura and Ojai
Q5: Toland land fill suffered damage, oil fields, toxic waste in area. What are the effects?
A5: First I’ve heard of each issue (Dr. Levin). Particulate matter is the first issue, then many other chemicals could be problematic.
Q6: How about the Santa Paula Water? (Dr. Aguirre)
A6: City Manager Rock: does retardant does pollute water ? City water is safe.
Q7: Limoneira employees? Are they safe?
A7: City Manager Rock said they are displaced, but Limoneira is accommodating them. They need more household supplies like furniture.
A7: Rosie Castillo, Property Manager for Limoneira, said yes definitely furniture, but they are not ready to take donations yet. Hopefully this will occur by Thu8rsday. They lost 12 mobile homes.
A7: Supervisor Long: the ranch itself is unharmed.
A7: Laura Espinosa, LULAC, said they were arranging storage. Address to be announced.
Q8: A resident on Howie Court said their water was used. Need break in water bill.
A8: City Manager Rock said he was not prepared to answer this question.

Final Information

Michelle Kolbeck, SPUSD, said that in order to address safety, schools would be closed the entire week. CEO Powers said that on December 12, 2017, the County Supervisors would be considering rental assistance for up to six months.

For more information on author click sherylhamlin dot com

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Edo McGowan

Looking back a year and a half now, we are seeing an increasing and more worrisome discussion series on water sources being polluted by chemical fire retardants. Unless technology, which should be supported by those at the helm, comes forward with alternatives, the immediacy of suppressing fires will continue to trump the need to protect our water resources.

Duke R.

A6: City Manager Rock: retardant does not pollute water. City water is safe.

I’m not so certain about retardant not polluting the water. It may cause an indirect impact… citizens would like confirmation…