VALLEY HOMES OUT OF DANGER

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Posted by Drew Mashburn on July 1, 2018

The following article was on page 1 of the Friday, September 17, 1948 edition of “THE OJAI”. It is reprinted here with the permission of the “OJAI VALLEY NEWS”. The author is unknown.

Outlying Mountain Areas Still Smoldering, But —
VALLEY HOMES OUT OF DANGER

BULLETIN — District Ranger E. M. Lyds of the U. S. Forest Service said late yesterday that all danger to the Ojai Valley is now reasonably past. The fire was still smoldering in Horn canyon and northwest of Wheeler Springs but he reported that cleanup crews are busy stamping out smoldering embers in mountain areas and the “prospects are good.” He would not say that the fire was under control. “We don’t consider them under control until they’re out,” he said.

HOW IT STARTED — Bottom photo shows a pumper arriving at Wheeler Springs shortly after the alarm was sounded. At far right arrow points to a surge of flame shooting out of the tin shed which housed the hot water heater. Within minutes the fire had turned the tinder-dry mountainside into an inferno. (Top photo.)

Ojai’s worst fire since the 1917 holocaust that wiped out most of the business district appeared Thursday to be well under control after a grim, desperate struggle that lasted nearly five days.

Heartfelt thanks on the part of every Valley resident went to those unsung heroes—Seabees, Navy men, oil field workers, and local men and boys—who unflinchingly stood up to the raging brush fires and averted what might have been an unparalleled disaster in the history of Ojai.

SEABEE HEADQUARTERS — To accommodate the more than 500 Seabees from Hueneme the county road department’s maintenance yard on Maricopa highway was converted into a soup kitchen. Below, a few of the boys fight off fatigue with some food. Above, one of the helicopters drops down in the adjoining field to give fire fighters instructions.

The fire encompassed an area of more than 30,000 acres, according to estimates of the U. S. forestry service.

As far as could be determined by Police Chief C. W. Robinson and Mayor J. Fred Linder, 13 houses were destroyed within the city limits, or 17 altogether in the entire fire area.

Mr. and Mrs. John (Nellie) McDonald lost all their belongings except what was in their car when their home was destroyed Monday night. Mr. and Mrs. William Sanderson, at the top of North Signal street, have nothing left of their home but a stark brick chimney. Mr. Sanderson had just returned home from a county hospital a week and a half ago following surgery. They are now staying with the Clarence Linder family. Mrs. Frank S. Beamon and her sister, Miss Mabel Isenberg, of North Signal street, lost their home, garage, and an automobile. They are now with Mrs. Beamon’s son at 139 Wall street, Ventura.

Mrs. Adelaide Northam lost two houses on Pauline street near the Caldwell home. George Caldwell lost a guest house and a small house used by the gardener. The William Lucking place lost some outbuildings and the gatehouse in Arbolada. On Mrs. William Mayes’ property a small office building was burned. Paul Pittman and a gardener, Mr. Burns, were burned out of their cottages at Cal-Prep school. The piano studio of Eugene Hassall and Adrian Wynnobel was also destroyed.

Bob Bates arrived Monday from Carpinteria to help Dr. and Mrs. C. T. Butler take away some of their things from their home on Foothill road, the former Humason house. However, the house remained intact. Mr. and Mrs. Joe Taylor of North Signal street lost a garage as the fire skipped around, taking one spot and not the next. Col. George Ragan, Miss Elizabeth Clark, John Graham, the Henry Prairies, Capt. Willard Francis home, were among those whose homes miraculously escaped the path of the fire. On Foothill road many homes emerged with scorched yards but no other damage. Skill of the firefighters was credited with having saved the homes threatened. “The technique of modern fire fighting is the only thing that saved the entire Valley from going,” said one old-timer who recalled the 1917 forest fire and methods used then.

Mrs. Arthur Rudolph, who now lives in Lompoc, lost a house and a guest house located on North Signal street. Mrs. Catherine Craig, former postmaster of Ojai, lost her home and belongings. An interesting sidelight on this was that a Los Angeles paper used a picture of the burning house and captioned it “Postmaster’s house burns.” Shortly afterward, Mrs. Matie McCormick, present postmaster, told “The Ojai” that she has received a number of calls from friends and relatives saying they had seen pictures of her burning home.

Three small cottages belonging to Mrs. Harry Workman were burned. These were occupied by a Miss Patterson, a Mr. Mulvane, a Mr. Arnold, and Mrs. Annie O’Neill, the Red Cross said. Local Red Cross officials also reported loss of homes belonging to Lily Millard, Eugene Moore, a Mrs. Collins, teacher at San Antonio school; and loss of tent occupied by a Mr. Heath. First names of these persons were not immediately available.

A home belonging to Mrs. Helen Simonds, daughter of Mrs. Berkley Brandt, was destroyed; but miraculously, her mother’s home was saved. Also, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Hassall in the Gridley canyon area, was wiped out by the flames.

One of the first homes to go was that of Wes Tulleys in the Wheeler canyon Sunday night.

Tuesday afternoon was a tense one for the Thacher road area residents. The fire, fanned by a stiff wind, spread out in a two-mile-wide swath and swept rapidly down through the foothills, threatening the C. G. Raymond home.  At this point were stationed several pieces of fire-fighting equipment; exactly what they were was not discernible. But it was easy to see huge streams of water being sprayed on the house and surrounding trees. Farther east hordes of Seabees and bulldozers could be seen cutting huge swaths near the fire line. One ‘dozer operator lunged his powerful machine straight at a large clump of brush that had blazed up and pushed it back into the fire line.

GETTING READY — Top photo: Ojai firemen and townsmen wait out the tense moments before fire rampaged through the Gridley canyon. Bottom photo: A giant ‘cat on its way up Foothill road to cut a firebreak. The breaks would ordinarily have stopped the fire, firemen said, but the wind whipped flames and embers straight for town.

Meanwhile, residents near the Thacher road, including Bill and Louise Lonsdale, Marion Applequist, and others, had evacuated their homes and moved their belongings out.

About 7 pm Tuesday, however, a large crew consisting of two bulldozers, several truckloads of youths employed by the county, and a pumper believed to have come from Los Angeles, had battled the blaze to a standstill and built several backfires which effectively stopped the fire from coming any farther toward the settlement of houses near Thacher road.

BEFORE THE CRISIS — This picture, taken from the bottom of Foothill road at Ojai avenue, shows location of the fire at 1:30 pm Monday. Five hours later the flames had come down the last ridge and were threatening the town until a shift of wind turned the tide for the fire-fighters.

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