Armitage Presents on Largest Wildfire in California History at CLP

February 21, 2018

ALLIANCE, Ohio – Barb Armitage presented this week’s Continued Learning Program (CLP), “The Largest Fire in California History,” on Tuesday morning at the University of Mount Union.

Armitage and her husband own a house in Ventura County, California, just a few minutes from the coast. The Alliance natives spend about half of the year in California where their two sons live with their families. This past December, while in California, Armitage and her family experienced the largest fire in the history of the state which is known as “Thomas.”

The fire began on December 4, 2017 and didn’t officially end until January 12, 2018. It only took 19 days for it to become the largest fire in the state’s history. In one month, the fire burned 281,893 acres and took 8,300 firefighters from 14 states to contain it. The fire spread at a rate of one football field per second in some places.

“These people are so well trained,” Armitage said about the firefighters. “And I stand in awe of them.”

Armitage heard about the fire at 6:30 p.m. on December 4, but wasn’t worried. There had been other fires near her house that had been put out within minutes. She expected this one to have the same outcome.

She recalled stepping out of her house and seeing the fire coming towards her. She snapped photos with her phone which she displayed for the audience to see during her presentation. By 10:30 p.m., their electricity was out in their community.

By 1:30 a.m. the homes in the foothills of the Topatopa Mountains near their house were being evacuated.

“The thing that amazes me in hind sight,” Armitage said. “Is how amazingly coordinated the fire response is in California.”

Barb Armitage - CLP

Dozens of organizations came to the aid of the people and cities affected by the fire including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Armitage explained how the people being evacuated were moved to one of four locations including the Ventura Fair Grounds, the only location to allow pets and farm animals.

The residents affected were taught to be precautious by boiling water and wearing masks when they went outside since the fire was burning everything and releasing so much smoke and possibly toxins into the air.

As a way to try and keep the fires contained, helicopters flew 24 hours a day to drop water on the fire and spread flame retardant on the mountains and trees.

“This was my favorite little infatuation of the whole thing,” Armitage said. She showed just some of the photos of the helicopters as they passed over her house caring buckets of water.

The Fire was caused by high temperatures, low humidity and drought, but once the fire was out, there was a new threat the people in California had to deal with- mudslides.

Shortly after the fires ended, the state received a heavy rain which led to the ash and dirt sliding down the mountains taking everything from boulders to cars to houses with it. Then threat of mudslides can continue for another two to five years.

The experience lead Armitage to think about fires in a way she never had before. She wondered what happened to the wild animals, the pets, the businesses, how evacuees and firefighters are fed and even about how the situation is dealt with.

She saw overwhelming gratitude from everyone affected towards the firefighters and everyone who helped to contain the fire and took charge during the difficult time.

The final CLP of February will take place on February 27 at 10 a.m. in the Newbold Room located in the Hoover-Price Campus Center. It will feature Robb Hyde as he presents “The Alliance Historic District.”

For more information about CLP or to be added to the mailing list, contact Abby Honaker Schroeder by email at honakeal@mountunion.edu.

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