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California wildfires: Evacuated residents wait for word

May 03, 2013|By Catherine Saillant, Christine Mai-Duc and Steve Chawkins

Hundreds of residents who fled their homes Thursday to escape a fast-moving brush fire in Ventura County that burned more than 8,000 acres waited for daylight to see if they could go back to their communities.

While some evacuations were lifted Thursday night, new evacuations were ordered in other areas.

Terry Doebler woke up Thursday morning choking from the smoke.

Doebler, 80, and her 82-year-old husband, Paul — retired New York transplants living in the Camarillo Springs neighborhood of Ventura County — had seen brushfires before in their 15 years there, but this was the first time a blaze forced them to evacuate.

"I opened the front door and the whole mountain was on fire," Paul Doebler said.

The Doeblers and their yellow Labrador retriever, Mandy, joined dozens of evacuees clustered in small groups around the sanctuary of Camarillo's Calvary Nexus church, one of two evacuation centers set up by the American Red Cross.

Daniel and Leslie Burns left work and rushed back to the Dos Vientos area of Newbury Park at mid-morning to find flames 30 feet high racing down a hill toward their two-story house, pushed by winds gusting to 40 mph.

Friends had already evacuated their dog, said Leslie Burns, 54, a teacher at Moorpark High School. They hurriedly packed photographs, important papers and medications, and prepared to flee.

But then the winds shifted. Erratic, hot winds blew the fire farther south into untouched brush in the hillsides above Newbury Park.

Pediatrician Paul Whyte was at work Thursday morning when his wife called to tell him the fire was in their backyard and helicopters were overhead.

He drove up his street to his large house at the end of Via Nicola, a cul-de-sac that abuts the hills where the fire burned.

"I saw my house, and then I saw the flames, two to three stories high, behind and above my house. I thought, 'That's not good,' " he said.

His wife and children had already evacuated with the family dogs, but Whyte stayed to monitor the situation. Firefighters told him they were controlling the fire and allowing it to burn out.

Whyte had a business card in his pocket from a landscaping service that specializes in weed abatement. He had planned to pay thousands of dollars to clean up the shrubbery, but now he looked around at his charred property.

"I'll have to call him now and tell him not to come tomorrow," he said with a laugh, looking at the card. "I'm somewhere between numb and ecstatic."

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catherine.saillant@latimes.com

christine.maiduc@latimes.com

steven.chawkins@latimes.com

Times staff writers Abby Sewell, Ari Bloomekatz, Matt Stevens, Marisa Gerber, Joe Serna and Robert J. Lopez contributed to this report.

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