December 2017 witnessed the single largest wildfire in California history. Expanding from a small fire into a massive firestorm the Thomas Fire blazed out of control in Ventura County eventually crossing in to Santa Barbara County. Multiple lives were lost including a firefighter and hundreds of homes, businesses and out buildings were destroyed. The following is our experience surviving a major natural disaster in a RV.

December 4 started as a great day; a day where we would finally meet up with my brother’s family and catch up with my dad following a major surgery. We had been out on the road for a while travelling all over the West and Midwest exploring The Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Colorado.  The day before we had pushed through a massive wind storm over the Sierras and limped in to our RV site in Ventura just after sunset.

60 MPH Crosswinds

To avoid maneuvering in the pitch black of night we had skipped our last fuel stop arriving in to the park with less than 1/8 of a tank in our tow vehicle. The move had worked allowing us to set up in the waning light of the day finishing just as full darkness fell. Being located safely in an urban area meant we could get fuel when needed so we parked the trucks, ate dinner and went to bed.

Dawn and early morning were beautiful near the coast. The off-shore winds had pushed all the moisture away from shore leaving the morning air warm and refreshing. After breakfast and a few hours of work we had ventured out on the Pacific Coast Bike Trail detouring out on to the sand with our fat tires to pedal along the crashing surf. Refreshing, adventurous and just another day in the RV lifestyle.

As evening approached we hopped in to our pickup and headed South on the 101 to visit family. My brother’s place is set high up on a hillside with majestic views of the Conejo Valley looking out towards Santa Paula, Ventura and Ojai. On clear days you can see for miles and today was one of those days. We enjoyed a good meal discussing life, school for the kids and plans for the holidays. If there is one thing the RV lifestyle can provide it is quality time with family.

We said our goodbyes as we departed for my dad’s place in Simi Valley. Walking out the front door after dark we could see, off in the distance, a strange glow and growing smoke cloud. Even in the dark of early evening the fire was emanating out a massive amount of light. Having grown up in this area surviving our own share of massive wildfires there was something ominous about this one. I called back to my brother and pointed out the flames as we continued on to Dad’s.

Dad had as he calls it “a minor surgery” you know the kind where the first one is botched, the second one goes worse, and the final one is an emergency surgery. Yes it was “a minor surgery” and he was in bed recovering. It is scary to see your loved ones in this condition you are powerless to stop it and all you can do is sit, talk and provide support. As the night wore on my thoughts started drifting to that ominous glow of the fire. Dad was tired and needed to sleep so we said our goodbyes for the evening and headed out to the truck.

Earlier through the power of the internet I was able to connect to a site that broadcast the emergency radio channels used by firefighters. The fire, now named the Thomas Fire,  was being controlled by Santa Ana winds, fast dry off-shore winds, that were pushing the flames towards the ocean. Within an hour of the first flames the fire had already moved almost 10 miles due West.

The reality of the danger of this fire bore out when the commander in charge of firefighting called out their defensive perimeter only to be immediately corrected by firefighters on the line saying “the fire is already past us here on the western perimeter!” The new perimeter was expanded to Ventura City on the western flank… right where our RV currently sat. Almost in unison with this news I received a text from my brother reporting that the fire was half way to Ventura and we “should get our RV out of there now”. How could that be? How could a fire cover that much ground so quickly?

Read part 2 by clicking here

Did the Thomas Fire or its aftermath impact your life? Feel free to comment below.

Mark Koep is the founder and CEO of He is devoted to making camping easier and travels the country in a RV to support this effort. If you find this article interesting please share it with your friends.

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    Fire move so fast people dont realize. After 25 years fighting fires I know enough to not mess with them. What happened in Ventura was incredible I too was listening to the scanner and could tell this thing was already out of control early. Huge props to Ventura County Fire for acting as good as they did against such odds. At the same time I say a prayer for the fallen fire fighter and his family.

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