Fire Stories~

Thinking about the idea of “time” as a “place”.  And looking at a place, Gridley Rd. through different times~

The following memoire written in 2000 by Joan Carroll (Hassall, Rowe):

 

The following by Karin Dron December 2017:

THE HEARTBREAK OF FIRE DECEMBER 17, 2017
KARIN K. DRON

OH, HOW THINGS MOVED QUICKLY…ONE EVENING YOU’RE HAVING DINNER A AT CAFE FIORE IN VENTURA, AND TWO HOURS LATER YOU’RE SUDDENLY AWARE THERE’S A FIRE RAGING IN THE UPPER OJAI- KOENINGSTEIN RD, JUST ONE CANYON EAST OF SISAR, YOUR WILD MOUNTAIN CANYON HOME FOR 37 YEARS.

FIRE IS RAGING AS I LOOK OUT AT BLACK MOUNTAIN, AND NEW BILLOWY PLUMES OF FIRE CLOUDS EXPANDING BOTH EAST AND WEST, SOON TO CONSUME 150 VENTURA HILLSIDE HOMES BEFORE IT SPILLED OVER BLACK MOUNTAIN TOWARD THE VALLEY FLOOR. BUT FOR ME, IT WAS THE FIRE THAT RACED UP INTO THE WILDERNESS THAT SCARED ME, KNOWING THE CAPACITY TO RACE THROUGH THE DRY TENDERED BRUSH OF THE DEHYDRATED CHAPPARAL. AND IT BECAME MORE WORRISOME AS IT ENTERED SENIOR CANYON THREATENING MY NIECE AND NEPHEW’S HOME OFF LADERA ROAD, AND SOON WTH AND FORCEFUL ERRATIC WINDS WOULD BE IN MY LAP !

MANY ( OR SHOULD I SAY MOST ?) PEOPLE HAD EVACUATED THE VALLEY AS THE FIRE CONSUMED THE AREA SOUTH OF HIGHWAY 33, THREATENING TO BLOCK PASSAGE OUT, AS HIGHWAY 150 TO EAST WAS ALREADY BLOCKED, POTENTIALLY TRAPPING RESIDENTS IN THE VALLEY, AND AS ROADS AND

SMOKE SHIFTED, PEOPLE DANCED AROUND THE CHAOS TO FIND SOMEWHERE THEY COULD GET TO WHERE THEY COULD BREATHE.
BUT I CHOSE TO STAY AND TRY AND PROTECT THE FAMILY HOMESTEAD, AND WAS GRATEFULLY JOINED BY MY NEPHEW, LAURENCE MALONE,
WHO SERENDIPITOUSLY HAPPENED TO BE IN TOWN FROM SANTA FE,To TRY AND PROTECT “DRONHAME” (SCOTTISH FOR DRON’s HOME). WE CUT BRUSH, CLEARED FURNITURE FROM AROUND THE HOUSE, LEAVES FROM THE THE SURROUNDINGS, AND SPECULATED ON FROM WHERE THE FIRE WOULD APPROACH, AND FROM WHAT LEVEL OF ERRATIC WINDS WE WOULD FACE.
I WENT TO STARR MARKET ( OR WESTRIDGE MIDTOWN, AS THEY LIKE TO CALL THEMSELVES NOW), TO GET LARGE BOTTLES OF WATER FOR BACKUP FOR THE MOST LIKELY EVENTUALITY THAT MY WATER LINE AND TANK WOULD BURN AS THE FIRE CONSUMED THE MOUNTAINSIDE ( THE “LOST TUNNEL” , DISCOVERED IN 1929 By BOYD’s FATHER WHILE WORKING FOR GRIDLEY MUTUAL WATER CO. LAY 1⁄2 MILE ABOVE US). GOT A CALL FROM MICHAEL GRIGSBY WHO OFFERED TO COME AND HELP CHAIN SAW And CLEAR BRUSH/ TREES, IN A LAST DITCH EFFORT TO REMOVE THE FUEL IN THE FIRE’S PATH ! I STOPPED BY RICK AND TARA’S TO LET THEM KNOW, AND RICK JOINED IN THIS COMMUNITY EFFORT TO SAVE THE HISTORIC HOME BUILT BY BOYD’S FATHER, JOHN A. DRON, SR., POST DEPRESSION

ERA (& BEYOND). MY NEPHEW AND I DRAGGED BRUSH AWAY TO THE SOUTH, CHINKING IT INTO THE BRUSH LINING THE DRIVEWAY, AS IT SEEMED INEVITABLE THE FIRE WOULD APPROACH FROM THE N.E. WE WORKED UNTIL IT WAS A DIM, EASY DARKNESS. MIKE GOURLEY ARRIVED WITH HOSES, FIRE NOZZLES, TOOLS, AS WELL AS HIS EXPERTISE AND WISDOM IN FACING FIRES. WE STARTED SOAKING THE WOODEN SECOND STORY— THE EVES, WOODEN DOORS AND WINDOWS, AND UPSTAIRS PORCH. WE TOOK TURNS MANNING THE HOSES, AND MADE TWO FRANTIC CALLS TO 911/ FIRE DISPATCH TO TRY AND GET FIRECREWS AND PUMPER TO AUGMENT OUR LIMITED WATER PRESSURE AND 3,000 GALLONS OF WATER ( THANKFULLY MY WATER TANK WAS NEARLY FULL). WHEN FIREMEN ARRIVED, THEY INQUIRED AS TO “OUR GAME PLAN” ? And RICK SAID WE WERE NOW ATTEMPTING TO SOAK THE WOODEN STRUCTURE IN HOPES THAT IT WOULD DEFLECT THE FIRE’S ASSAULT. THE FIREMAN SAID HE THOUGHT WE WERE WASTING OUR PRECIOUS WATER, AS HE ESTIMATED THE FIRE WAS 2 HRS. AWAY, TO WHICH RICK REPLIED, NO, HE THOUGHT IT WAS 1⁄2 HOUR AWAY, AND HE PLANNED TO KEEP SOAKING. RICK ASKED IF THEY WOULD BE COMING SOON TO OFFER SUPPORT, TO WHICH HE REPLIED THEY WOULD NOT BE OFFERING SUPPORT, AS THEY FELT THIS PROPERTY WAS
« UNDEFENDABLE » ! YIKES !!! WE WERE ON OUR OWN. APPARENTLY THERE WAS CONCERN THAT THE FIRE WOULD ENCIRCLE THE PROPERTY, TRAPPING THE DEFENDERS IN A FIRE STORM. JOHN A. DRON SOLVED THIS

DILEMA BY CLOSING HIMSELF IN THE STONE CELLAR BELOW THE HOUSE, THEN EMERGING TO PUT OUT THE INEVITABLE SPOT FIRES.

DESPITE THE AUTHORITIES COUNCIL THAT WE WERE FIGHTING A LOST BATTLE, WE CARRIED ON— WATERING, CLEARING, NAILING AND SCREWING WINDOWS SHUT, BLOCKING VENTS, & REMOVING SCRAP WOOD PILES FROM WORKSHOP WALLS. THE FIRE DEPARTMENT HAD RETREATED TO GRIDLEY ROAD IN THEIR BIG ENGINES, WATCHING THE FLAMES DANCE DOWN THE HILLSIDES BEHIND US. THEY SAID THEY WOULD SOUND THE HORNS WHEN IT WAS TIME FOR US TO FLEE. THE SMOKE INCREASED. YOU COULD HEAR THE ROAR OF THE FIRE AS IT GALLOPED TOWARDS US, PUSHED BY 20 MPH WINDS (LUCKILY NOT THE 50 MPH WINDS THAT HAD BEEN PREDICTED !).AND THE FALL OF ASH HAD THE EERIE FEEL OF RAINDROPS.

AS THE FLAMES AND FIRE STORM REACHED THE BOTTOM OF THE SURROUNDING HILLS, THE GUYS MADE A CALL TO EVACUATE ( THERE WAS NO HORN !). JUST RICK REPEATING, WE HAVE TO GO NOW, YOU HAVE TO LEAVE NOW ! THEY ASKED IF THERE WAS ANYTHING MORE TO GRAB ? ANTIQUES? FAMILY MEMENTOS ? THE HOPI RUGS AND MUAPA VALLEY INDIAN BASKETS WERE ALREADY PACKED, AND I I WAS SO OVERWROUGHT THAT I COULD NOT THINK, SO WE GRABBED RANDOM FRAMED FAMILY PHOTOS, THE MAJOR’S ETCHING AND WATERCOLOR, MY POWER DRILL, AND GUITAR….. OH, HOW I WISH I HAD THOUGHT TO GRAB THE TURKISH RUG

FROM THE EAST CABIN, OR MY MASSAGE ….. REALLY WAS ANYTHING MORE PRECIOUS THAN MY LIFE ? AND AS I PAUSED TO REFLECT ON THAT ONE THING I MIGHT LATER REGRET NOT TAKING, THE GUYS WERE ALL YELLING THAT WE HAD TO GET OUT ! SECURING ALL DOORS AND WINDOWS, WE SCURRIED DOWN THE DRIVEWAY. I ARRIVED AT THE BOTTOM ONLY TO REALIZE I’D FORGOTTEN MY DOG ! I CALLED, BUT HE WAS SAFELY CLOSED IN, SO I RACED BACK UP TO GET NIKKO.

I RETREATED TO RICK AND TARA’s HOME AT GRAND AND SUMMER ST. , AND WHEN I FOUND NO ONE THERE, AS THEY HAD LINGERED TO WATCH THE FLAMES DANCE OVER THE PROPERTY,I RETURNED ONE LAST TIME.

I ENCOUNTERED THE
PHOTOJOURNALIST WHOM I’D MET EARLIER IN THE EVENING WHO HAD SAID HE WOULD TRY AND CAPTURE THE MOMENT ON FILM, AND THAT HE’D HEARD A STRIKE TEAM WAS SUPPOSED TO BE UP. I’M LEFT FEELING THERE MIGHT BE A CHANCE FOR THE FAMILY HOME.
I MADE ONE MORE ATTEMPT (AN HOUR LATER) TO SEE WHAT HAD HAPPENED. I DROVE UP THE LONG DRIVE, WITH FIRES RAGING ON BOTH SIDES, AND ENCOUNTERED DOWNED WIRE ACROSS THE ROAD. IN MY CRAZINESS, I DROVE OVER THE WIRE ( WHICH LUCKILY FOR ME WAS A CASING WIRE FROM COMMUNICATION LINES) UNTIL I ENCOUNTERED A SECOND WIRE AT WINDSHIELD HEIGHT WHICH FORCED ME TO TURN

AROUND ( NOT AN EASY TASK ON THIS NARROW ONE LANE, CURVY ROAD !). I COULD FEEL THE HEAT AS I APPROACHED THE EDGE OF THE FENCE AS I MADE A THREE POINT TURN …AND REALIZED THAT I HAD DONE SOMETHING VERY UNSAFE ! I WAS GRATEFUL I HAD ALL WHEEL DRIVE AS I SUCCESSFULLY MADE MY ESCAPE !

AS I ARRIVED AT THE BOTTOM OF THE DRIVE, I
ENCOUNTERED THE SAME PHOTOJOURNALIST WHO SAID HE’D LEFT THE SCENE SHORTLY AFTER MY LAST VIEWING OF THE HOUSE, AS THE FIRE HAD STARTED TO ENCIRCLE THE PROPERTY, THROWING HOT SPARKS HIS WAY. CLEARLY THERE WOULD BE NO STRIKE TEAM, THOUGH HE SAID THE LAST TIME ANYONE CHECKED, THE STONE HOUSE STILL STOOD, AND ALL THE OUT BUILDINGS WERE GONE !
TARA HAD ME PROMISE I WOULD CHECK BACK IN WITH THEM BEFORE I WENT ANYWHERE ELSE, AS SHE REALIZED NO DOUBT WHAT DANGER I
WAS PUTTING MYSELF IN. SO, I RETREATED TO TARA AND RICK’s FOR DINNER AND PLANNING WHERE TO GO FROM HERE. FIRE TRUCKS AND CREWS CONTINUED TO RACE TO THE WEST, TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH THE FIRE’s PACE. I HAD THOUGHT I WOULD STAY WITH ANNA ON MEINER’S ROAD, BUT THE FLAMES, FUELED BY THE HILLSIDE’s DEHYDRATED CHAPARRAL LANDSCAPE BECKONED THE FIRE ALL THE WAY TO HIGHWAY 33 WHERE IT JUMPED THE HIGHWAY AT FRIEND’s RANCH AND THREATENED

OJALA. ANNA’s SONS WERE THERE TO GRAB SOME BEATO ART, AND FLEE THEMSELVES AS THEY HEARD THE EXPLOSIVE IMPACT OF THE FIRE’S RAGE ! I MEANWHILE SHOWERED AND TRIED TO SLEEP AFTER SEVERAL DAYS OF FRANTICALLY PREPARING FOR THE FIRE THAT I KNEW WOULD MAKE IT’S PRESENCE KNOWN.

I SLEPT FOR 3 1⁄2 HOURS, WAKING TO THIS BURNING DESIRE TO SEE WHAT HAD HAPPENED. I FORCED MYSELF TO REST TIL IT WAS LIGHT ENOUGH TO SEE, DRESSED AND DROVE UP TO GRIDLEY, PARKING AT THE BOTTOM, AND NIKKO AND I BRAVED THE WALK UP TO SEE THE FIE’S VERDICT. STEPPING OVER NUMEROUS DOWNED WIRES, WE HIKED UP THE CURVY DRIVEWAY THAT HAD NEVER SEEMED SO LONG BEFORE. AT SOME POINT IWAS VIEWING A LIGHT …… A LIGHT ??? YES, IT APPEARED I HAD A HOUSE AND ELECTRICITY ! BUT AS I WALKED INTO THE MOST GREY, FIRE CHARRED MOONSCAPE ( TOTALLY SURROUNDING THE PROPERTY), LEVELING MY MASSAGE STUDIO, WORKSHOP, GARAGE ( THAT HAD ONCE HOUSED THE FAMILY’S MODEL T), AND MOST DISAPPOINTINGLY THE EAST CABIN ( CALLED THE « TENT HOUSE »,AS THE DRON CLAN HAD DWELLED THERE WHILE BUILDING THE ROCK HOUSE), I WAS SURPRISED BY WHAT I SAW NEXT…. THE WEST CABIN WAS STILL STANDING, IT’s WINDOWS CRACKED, RED DOOR PAINT SCORCHED TO BUBBLY BLISTERS ! I REALLY PONDERED WHY THIS WOODEN CABIN BURNED ( THE ONLY SURVIVOR OF 5 OUT BUILDINGS),

AND I’M LEFT SUSPECTING THAT THE MELTING OF THE 3500 GAL. WATER TANK HAD SAVED THE DAY, RELEASING A STREAM OF WATER DEFLECTING THE FIRE’s FORCE COMBINED WITH SOUTHWESTERLY WINDS TO DEMOLISH INSTEAD THE GARAGE AND HEALING SPACE.

IT WAS ALMOST TOO MUCH TO TAKE IN, BUT I STOOD RELIEVED TO AT LEAST HAVE A HOME, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME FEELING THE MAGNITUDE OF ALL I HAD LOST. ALMOST EVERYTHING UP SISAR CANYON HAD BEEN
DESTROYED 2 DAYS PRIOR— MULTIPLE CABINS, WORKSHOP, STONE HOUSE, AND EVEN THE CAR BRIDGE PROVIDING FINAL ENTRY TO THE 40 ACRE INHOLDING ALL SURROUNDED BY LOS PADRES FOREST.

HOW WAS IT POSSIBLE THAT ONE FIRE COULD DESTROY ALMOST EVERYTHING IT HAD TAKEN OVER 50 YEARS TO NURTURE ???

I CAN ONLY SAY THAT A NEW PATH LIES AHEAD TO FILL THE VOID THAT
WE HAVE LOST. AND THAT THE ANSWER LIES IN KEEPING OUR HEARTS OPEN SO AS TO SEE AND WELCOME THE CHANGE. I REMAIN SO AMAZED AT THE LEVEL OF SUPPORT , LOVE, AND SPIRIT IN THIS COMMUNITY OF OJAI… WE WILL RISE FROM THE ASHES & CONTINUE TO BUILD ON THE WONDER THAT IS HELD IN THIS VALLEY.

 

The following by Rick Bisaccia December 2017:

As a roaring wall of flame was coming across the Ojai foothills manning the Dron House, we called the fire department. The Montecito and Cosumnes Fire Departments showed up to our relief. We had spent hours tuning up the fire clearance with chainsaws and dragging brush, and then carefully wetting down all exposed, unpainted redwood on the main house. Mind you this house when 16 years old survived the 1948 fire with the Dron family staying to fight and prevailing, hiding in the basement at one point while the flames passed by. This was an account that had been written about in detail by the house’s builder John A. Dron, and it’s details of saving the house were keen in our minds that evening. Present were Major Dron’s daughter in law, whose now deceased husband Boyd was present at the ’48 fire as a sixteen year old, and the Major’s sister’s son Laurence Malone, along with myself and a friend named Mike Gourley.

In talking to the fire departments at the house, they told us to “stop wasting water” as the fire was “hours away.” I told one of the men that the fire would be here within half an hour. I asked a Captain present in passing, “so you’re going to fight this thing, right.” He smiled and said, “we can’t stop this; we’ll wait down the road, and when you hear our horns it’s time to get out fast.” I never did hear horns, but saw them leave as the wall of flames grew close, and a big spot fire exploded just up from us away from the main fire–for sure within that predicted half an hour.  We ran to our vehicles and went down the hill just as the flames enveloped the property.

Karin and her nephew stayed at our house that night. Karin left early in the morning and went up to the place, sending us a texted photo back of the old house standing proud and unscathed, surrounded by a moon scape and all outbuildings and cabins burned to the ground, some as close as 10′ from the back of the house.

Tara and I had run into Ojai people hunkered down up north in Buellton, Pismo, Santa Maria and heard of people in Taft. Mostly the town has been abandoned and everything closed except a donut shop, gas station and Von’s market. Fire companies and agencies from all over the country and state have been here. We are mopping up here now–everything in the hills burned and some 500 structures lost in the county. The fire pretty much was like a pernicious organism that went and sometimes returned to burn brush wherever it’s tongues of flame could reach. Scary times. In spite of the “excellent” communication of our age, it was hardly good during the incident. There were official sites, Facebook pages and so on. Ultimately it was best to go out and monitor and share info with friends relevant to our areas. For example, Tuesday morning we had no idea the fire was burning inside the valley–the info available only said it had burned towards communities to the southwest.

It makes you thankful for what you have, even your humdrum little life. Thanks for your thoughts and support during this event, that we at least, came through mostly unscathed. Many of our friends lost homes, ranches and rental properties. We only lost lung capacity from smoke,  and income from not working, which is nothing compared to what could have been and what was for some.

Rick Bisaccia

The following is Karin Dron after the Thomas fire~ (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/12/08/surprised-california-fire-survivor-oh-my-god-have-home/933675001/)

Karin Dron, who lives at Gridley Road, was able to save her house, which is made of stone. Her house was built in 1932. She lost one small office space. JUAN CARLO/THE STAR

OJAI, Calif. — Flames had reached the bottom of the foothills above Karin Dron’s house as she heard the firefighters hit their horns.

Earlier, the crews had told her she could stay, but when they hit the horn, it was time to get out.

She, her nephew and a couple friends had worked for hours to hose down any wood on the 1930s-era stone house, cut back branches and drag brush as far as possible from the home and cabins.

The smoke was thick, and she remembers the ash feeling like raindrops as it fell.

That night, as the Thomas Fire swept closer to Gridley Road above Ojai, she heard the horn, got her dog and they took off down the narrow, windy road.

Dron thought it was probably goodbye to the house where her late husband had grown up and that his father had built stone by stone.

“I had just lost everything up Sisar canyon. I thought I was going to lose my only home,” she said.

But she did see it again. As the sun came up Thursday, she climbed back up the long driveway and saw what she hadn’t expected.

The house survived.

Late Wednesday, as winds picked up, the 48-hour-old Thomas Fire made a run toward the city of Ojai. Mandatory evacuations stretched throughout the city and surrounding valley and most people grabbed pets and took off to safety.

Communities in the hills and canyons seemed the hardest hit, but the 4½-square-mile city itself escaped the worst of the fire.

“I guess we could say we’ve been blessed … considering what it could have been,” Ojai Mayor Johnny Johnston said Thursday morning.

But with evacuations in place and the wind still unpredictable, he wasn’t exhaling just yet. Embers would still be an issue and the wind could pick back up and shift again, he said.

On Thursday morning, Joel Fox and Jennifer Day were shoveling dirt on hot spots on a property on Rice Road.

They had rescued a chicken they found in a wooden coop there, boxed in by smoldering heaps of wood.

“We live about four houses down on this street,” Fox said.

They got home earlier expecting the worst, but their house was fine.

Fox said it looked like firefighters had stayed in their yard, and he heard they had managed to push the fire away from the homes.

He had watched the fire the night before from the top of nearby Signal Street.

“It came all the way over here in like 10 minutes,” he said pointing to the ridge above the neighborhood.

By 2:30 a.m., he left to stay with their friends in Camarillo. “We thought this whole neighborhood was toast,” he said while helping out in a neighbor’s yard.

A few miles away, Dron had made coffee and was working with some friends to get things cleaned up.

It’s sort of a Dron tradition, she said of saving the home.

John A. Dron, who everyone called The Major, started building the house in 1932. He had finished the main parts before going to war in 1941, she said. After, he came back and finished.

The Thomas fire had already destroyed more than 150 structures before reaching Gridley Road late Wednesday.

The Drons’ other property, about 40 acres in Sisar Canyon was on that list of destroyed homes. They lived there for 37 years, she said.

The tenants made it out OK, but “it totally got blitzed,” she said. “I lost everything there.”

On Wednesday, she tried to keep the stone house on Gridley from the same fate. There was too much vegetation for the firefighters to safely defend it, so she and others did the best they could before they had to go, she said.

“I stayed here until I couldn’t be here any longer,” Dron said, remembering as she watched the flames race across a ridge above her home.

By 5 or 6 a.m. Thursday, she was walking up the driveway that cut a path through the charred ground.

The night before, they had turned on a lamp in an upstairs room as they nailed shut windows that have a tendency to pop open in the wind.

That’s what she spotted first.

“I came up and there was a lamp on,” she said. “I knew I still had a house and power.”

“Oh, my God, I have a home,” she remembers thinking.

A cabin, garage and workroom burned to the ground, a small orchard was gone and antique tools and other things were destroyed. But the house was OK.

“I think he would be grateful that the house is still here,” she said of her husband, who died a few years ago. “It’s the family legacy.”

Follow Cheri Carlson on Twitter: @vcCheri

 

 

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