Farm Talk with Paul Ward – The Maria Fire 2019

In today’s show, Paul tells us about the fiery Halloween that was experienced in Ventura County & surrounding areas this year.  The “Easy” fire, the “Getty fire, and the “Maria” fire, all happened on, or near, Halloween.  The Easy fire was in Simi Valley, the Getty fire was near the Getty museum in Los Angeles, and the Maria fire started on a mountaintop between the city of Santa Paula and the township of Somis.

Paul talks specifically about the Maria fire, how it affected an area of Somis where he has a ranch property for sale, and explains the reasons why that ranch is still standing today.

Tune in and learn how a quick-thinking ranch hand and a 15,000 gallon cistern helped keep this ranch, and those surrounding it, from burning down!  A fascinating & incredible story!

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Farm Talk – The Maria Fire 2019

Today I’m going to tell you a little bit about our Halloween, which was a quite unusual. We had a fire here in our area called the Maria Fire. If you’re local, of course you know about it, but if you’re beyond Ventura County, California, it was probably just another blip on the news radar with several fires happening all at once.

Just a few days prior to Halloween we had two other fires; one was called the Easy Fire, a funny name, although the fire itself was not funny. It almost burned down the Ronald Reagan library. Then the other fire that happened was called the Getty Fire named after the Getty Fire Muse. The Easy Fire started with an electrical line that fell down and the Getty Fire started because a tree branch also fell on an electrical line.

The Maria Fire was somewhat similar. It also started with an electrical issue, but this was with a surge and an electrical surge. What our electric company has been doing is they have been turning the power off when the wind speeds reach a certain speed and then using their computer models, they will turn the power back on when they feel it’s safe to do so. So, they were actually turning the power back on when a 16,000 volt, a surge, ignited a spark on a mountain top called South Mountain. This mountain’s not a very big mountain, it’s just a couple thousand feet high. It separates the township of Somis from the city of Santa Paula here in Ventura County, California. Somis, which I’ve talked about before, has a population of about 7,000 spread out over about 10 miles, so it’s sparsely populated. Santa Paula is a city of about 35,000, it’s a farming community here in the county.

As soon as that surge ignited that spark, the winds were still blowing West and the fire department knew using their models how many acres the fire would burn before it would extinguish itself. So, they knew pretty quickly that this was going to be about a 10,000-acre fire before the fire went out. There was certainly a lot of commotion and excitement and just a fear in the meantime. At about six o’clock in the evening, the fire started, and it started heading West. Immediately, the fire department knows how long it’s going to take based on the wind speeds to reach certain locations. Evacuation started in various neighborhoods and Canyon properties. And just like always, people who had done brush clearance were safer than people that had not done brush clearance. June 1st of every year as our fire abatement deadline day, so the fire department does go around to all of the rural properties to make sure that people have cleared their tall brush by that deadline. There still are some pine trees and eucalyptus trees and other flammable types of trees that ignite very easily, even with the fire brush rules in place. The Canyon properties are particularly susceptible.

I have a property for sale that’s five acres. It’s tucked back in a Canyon. It’s a very cute farmhouse that’s three bedrooms, two baths with a guest house over a three-car garage. The interesting thing about the house, which was custom built by the owner, is it has no nails. It’s an all wood house and the only reason why it’s still standing today is by the grace of God and also the ranch hand who works on the property about three days a week. He doesn’t live at the property. He lives about 10 miles away in Oxnard, California. He had the good site to head out to the ranch, the California highway patrol let him through the barricade because he said, “Hey, I’ve got to go make sure that the house is okay and make sure the owner’s okay.” They let him through and sure enough the fire was engulfing the mountain, or the hillside, behind the house. All told, three sides of the property burned. One side did not burn, but three sides of the property of the five acres burned. They did some really good brush clearance on this property, but one side of the property still had eucalyptus trees and some tall growth.

What they had also done was they had spread mulch throughout the five acres to keep the moisture in the soil. There are over a hundred varieties of varying fruit trees on the property and for water conservation purposes, they’ve got a lot of mulch spread out to keep the moisture in the soil. Well, when the mulch isn’t wet – it’s flammable. Not only was the fire coming through the eucalyptus trees, but it now was spreading underneath the mulch and small flames were popping up. It basically it looked like small flames were popping up underneath the ground with a lot of smoldering going on as well. The ranch hand grabbed the tractor with the skip loader and scraped the mulch off of the earth to basically clear the ground of any flammables. This prevented the flames from reaching the house.

Now in some areas, the flames were 30-40 feet high, not too far from the house. The fire crews were coming back in the canyons to protect all of the properties. What he told me was that the fire crews were from Montana, Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada and of course, California. He said they had water and it was just very fortunate that the property had a 15,000-gallon cistern underground, so 15,000 gallons of water stored underground in a giant tank, and the fire trucks were able to fill up 500 gallons in less than two minutes with their fire trucks if they had pumps. He said there were about five fire trucks lined up at the property all filling up in less than two minutes. Not only were they able to protect this particular home, but they were able to protect several of the surrounding properties without having to go all the way back to a fire hydrant, which was quite far away. Of course, helicopters were doing drops and only one house in the area was lost. That was very sad of course, but also very fortunate. It was the one house, of course, that had tall grass and trees right up against it.

I don’t live near the property, I’m in town, and it was kind of surreal to see South Mountain burning off in the distance. I had just a flood of trick or treaters coming to my house, but I certainly knew what was going on, or had an idea about what was going on in the general area. I, of course, had no idea that this was happening at this particular property.

We do live in fire country! It is important to clear tall brush by the June 1st deadline every year. Now our rains are starting, so that’s very nice. Another story was a local client was the head of the local HOA and he stayed in the neighborhood while he said about half or so of the people evacuated. He was going up and down the farm roads on an ATV, just making sure that there were no hot spots that had popped up. His neighborhood had about a 200-acre buttress of lemon trees that had protected his property from the tall grass. Just an update there on the Maria Fire and hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving and we’ll talk to you at the next show.

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