I moved to the mountain town of Ojai in December 2016. An hour and a half drive from Los Angeles – it was the perfect combination of close enough, yet far enough away from the madness of Los Angeles.
On Monday night, December 4th, I received a text about a fire in Ventura. I was down in Los Angeles for the evening, and after checking it out on Google maps, I saw it was miles away – not a big deal.
“As long as it doesn’t come over the mountain,” I said.
The following morning a text from a friend in Ojai informed me the Thomas Fire had, indeed, crossed the mountain. It doubled in size overnight in the stiff Santa Ana winds and burnt hundreds of homes in Ventura, Upper and East Ojai.
I left my studio in downtown LA on Tuesday to rescue what I could. In this case – my archive of negatives, several paintings, and a few choice and irreplaceable surfboards.
Watching the flames from my backyard less than a mile away I decided if Thomas was coming, then there was nothing to do.
I left not knowing what I’d return to, and went to prepare for my shoot the following day – determined that if I couldn’t save my house, at least I’d have fun in the studio. (We did)
On Saturday I returned home – which was completely intact. The fire had come just 4000 feet away, spared by the lack of winds on Thursday. In fact, the entire town had been spared by the winds that were forecast but never came to our small town.
The Thomas fire grew over the next month to be the largest fire in California History – 281,893 acres. In comparison, the 33 Boroughs of London are 390,400 acres… so picture most of that… burnt to a bit of a crisp.
Never having witnessed something like this first-hand – I was determined to find the beauty in this new landscape. Now – keep in mind not all of Ojai looks like this. The town itself is basically the same, just with more love and sense of community. But off in the hills, through valleys and up into Los Padres National Forest you’ll find barren fields of Chaparral and Manzanita, Live Oaks that have disappeared into ash – and my favourite – these lone survivors.