One year later: students, community reflect on Thomas Fire

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Senior Shira Zaid lost her home in the Thomas Fire. Zaid said, "I am grateful that my community eagerly reached out with support." Photo from: Shira Zaid

Micah Wilcox

“It’s dizzying seeing how far [my family has] come,” said senior Omar Al-Bawab. “I’m a very different person now then [on] the day of the fire.”

One year after the Thomas Fire, Ventura continues to recover from what was the largest fire in California history at the time, according to CNN. The Thomas Fire started on Dec. 4, 2017 and destroyed 535 structures in Ventura city alone, according to the Ventura County Star.

Community members gathered at the Poinsettia Pavilion Tuesday, Dec. 4 to reflect on the Thomas Fire.

The packed event, which began around 6:00 p.m, consisted of remarks from a few of the many public and elected officials in attendance, a moment of silence for the fire’s two victims, and an open microphone for members of the community to share memories and feelings about both the fire and the recovery since its containment.

At the event, County Supervisor Steve Bennett credited the City of Ventura and Ventura County for working together and developing the blueprint for fire recovery in Ventura now being followed by the Hill and Woolsey Fire recoveries.

“With the Hill Fire and the [Woolsey Fire],” said Bennett, “They are just flying through the recovery program. Why? [Because] they had the whole template already together.”

“What the City of Ventura did with the county on this fire has paid dividends for all of us but it’s also paid dividends for all of those people now suffering down there.”

On reflecting on one year since the Thomas Fire, Bennett said, “It just made you feel thoughtful and try to reflect on what’s important to you, what was important to get done over this last year.”

Listen below to an interview with Supervisor Steve Bennett.

Infographic by: Micah Wilcox

John McNeil, division chief of west county operations for the Ventura County Fire Department took the time to remember the Thomas Fire’s two victims: Virginia Pesola, 70, and Cory Iverson, 32.

Pesola died in a traffic accident fleeing the fire while Iverson, a Cal Fire engineer, died fighting the Thomas Fire. Iverson left behind a wife and a young daughter; at the time, his wife was pregnant with their second child.

McNeil reflected on the importance of the time: 6:23 p.m, Dec. 4 was the time at which the first 911 call relating to the Thomas Fire came in.

At Ventura High School, Company teacher Heidi House recalled that the Thomas Fire “drastically changed my life.”

“I moved out of my family home of 14 years and relocated to Santa Barbara,” she said by text.

“I’m fortunate that my home was not completely lost but the devastation of the damage and destruction of the [Thomas] Fire makes it impossible for me to live [there]. I created a home with a magical garden that was destroyed. It was a whole lot of loss in a very short time.”

Al-Bawab said that his family found a permanent home a month ago.

“We kept jumping from place to place,” said Al-Bawab, “but because of the multitudes of help we got from the community I had a lot of faith in humanity instilled in myself. I was truly humbled by the aid we received.”

“A lot of character development took place for me over the past year because of the fire, so it’s now like I’m looking down from a ladder that I’ve been climbing constantly and realizing how far I’ve come.”