Californians reflect after fleeing homes as fire came close




VENTURA, Calif. — They ran for their lives by the thousands when the devastating wildfires raced across a huge swath of brush-covered Southern California hillsides, and they survived even if their homes didn’t. Here are some stories of evacuees.

Steve Andruszkewicz and his wife used a garden hose to spray palm trees to keep them from burning as glowing embers whirled in the wind and flames raced down a hillside across the street from their beachside home early Thursday.

He said they would evacuate for the second time this week from tiny Faria Beach, where crews scrambled to protect homes nestled along the shore northwest of Los Angeles. The couple packed bags after the blaze in Ventura County broke out late Monday and destroyed dozens of homes.

“We left Tuesday night and stayed down at our son’s house. We came back yesterday, stayed the night, but this has got me worrying because of the blowing embers,” he said.

Neighbor Joseph Ruffner also evacuated and returned. Pointing at the wall of flames across the street, he noted that the blaze was “coming back to burn what it didn’t burn yesterday.”

Despite the encroaching fire and a lack of electricity in the area, Ruffner insisted he wouldn’t leave again.

“I bought a generator yesterday so at least I can see on TV what’s going on,” he said.

Marolyn Romero-Sim wept as she sat on a cot at an evacuation center recounting how the modest RV her family called home was destroyed by the largest and most destructive Southern California wildfire.

“Everything is ashes. Everything. We don’t have a place to live. We lost stuff we can’t get back,” she said.

She said her husband, Hugo Romero-Rodriguez, was wracked with guilt that he couldn’t get inside to rescue anything — including their beloved little dog, Coqueta. She was trapped in a crate inside when the vehicle erupted in flames. Romero-Rodriguez suffered cuts on his leg and hand and a burn on his arm trying to get inside to save Coqueta.

“He was sitting there in the driver’s seat and he couldn’t move,” Romero-Sim said Wednesday, recalling how she, her husband and their 9-year-old daughter, Milagros, sat in their truck, watching the RV burn before finally realizing they had to flee their Ventura County neighborhood.

“He just kept watching and he feels so guilty that he couldn’t save it,” she continued. “I told him he did everything he could and he did what he had to save our lives.”

Romero-Rodriguez makes a modest living as a jewelry salesman and he lost the pearls, earrings, bracelets and watches that made up his inventory.