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.
The following is part 3 of the story. Read part 2 by clicking here
Our 1/8 tank of fuel was enough to get us hooked up and out of the park but the power was out for 25 miles south plus the 1000 foot climb up and in to the Conejo Valley. It was very unlikely we could make that distance on the remaining fuel. Our second truck still had a quarter tank of fuel and contained the two most important items in my life, my wife and son. The decision was made we would leave the RV and tow vehicle here; the risk of being stranded with all of our worldly possessions in the face of a firestorm was too great. Instead we choose to begin driving north, in our second truck, in search of fuel. Surely the power was still on in Carpinteria!?
The assumption was false as the power outage covered this region too. Driving further north the gas gauge was plunging faster than normal, it tends to do that when you watch it closely. Further north and still no light. Finally rounding a curve on the coastal route I could see all the way to Goleta and all I could see was darkness. The outage covered this entire region. We were not going to find power and with that we were not going to find fuel. If we continued on we would be stranded for good.
Pulling off the roadway at Montecito we found a small hotel on a side street. Professionally run the office staff had lanterns at the ready and a room available. We checked in and I moved my frightened son and stressed out wife into the comforts of the hotel room. Once they were safe my thoughts turned to getting my RV out of harms way.
By now the alarm of the fire had woken the powers that be. Evacuations were being ordered and roads were being closed. My problem still existed, how do I get fuel for the tow vehicle? Calling my brother “I need your help now” without hesitation he replied “what do you need?”
Luckily he had several empty fuel cans and the power was still on in the Conejo Valley. He would fill the cans with diesel and meet me at the RV. “Be careful” I replied “this is unlike anything we have seen before” and hung up the phone. Fuel and solid help was meeting me at the RV but now I had to get there myself.
I have never been a fan of the Uber and Lyft trend but after calling a few taxi companies, all with no answer, I discovered the true benefit of the service. The Uber App would not accept my credit card details so Lyft was installed next. It worked perfectly and a driver was only 3 minutes away. Precisely on time he pulled up in front of the hotel.
Jumping in to the car I explained where we were going. He commented that he had heard something about a fire brushing it off as nothing serious. Much like the conversation with the park manager earlier in the evening I felt that honesty and directness were important. “Listen carefully you are driving me in to the middle of an out of control firestorm. It is likely that the flames will be outside the park. You will get me as close as you safely can and immediately turn around and get out of there. Got it?!” Unlike the previous conversation I had clearly made a more serious impression. He replied, “Got it!”
As if on queue my brother called my cell. Putting him on speaker he reiterated my explanation to the driver with “Holy sh%$ the fire is all around Ventura! This is no joke! When are you getting here?” Checking the app we were 15 minutes away ending the call with “Be careful and hurry” we hung up.
“So does Lyft track your speed?” I asked the driver.
“No they estimate time.” he replied.
“There is an extra $20 in it if you do 80 the rest of the way!” I replied.
The driver obliged and we hurtled south towards Ventura. Passing Carpinteria the seriousness of the situation reappeared as a flow of vehicles started streaming by us heading North. The evacuations were well under way. Would we be able to get to the park?
Did the Thomas Fire or its aftermath impact your life? Feel free to comment below.
Mark Koep is the founder and CEO of CampgroundViews.com. 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.