Residents from Calabasas to Oak Park are thankful the Woolsey fire stayed mostly in the hills and ravines that surrounded their homes. But some mountain communities wedged into the line of fire had no such luck.
Nearly half the residents of the Seminole Springs Mobile Home Park, on Mulholland Highway and deep in the Santa Monica Mountains, lost their homes. Of 215 residences in the park, 101 were reduced to a heap of ash and twisted black metal during the Nov. 8 to 9 fire.
Today, the community has begun the road to recovery, but how long it will take isn’t known. In addition, Southern California Edison has no estimate on when power will be restored.
Residents were able to return to Seminole Springs on Nov. 19 after the sheriff lifted roadblocks. Since then the park has been a beehive of activity—residents and volunteers in hooded white coveralls, gloves and respirator masks sift through the remnants of properties, searching for anything they can salvage.
Jena Weiss lost the home she had lived in since moving to Seminole Springs from the East Coast last January. She’s been sleeping on her cousin’s couch in West Los Angeles since she evacuated at 3 a.m. Nov. 8.
“It was very unpredictable. And people stayed. I remember standing there, looking at my stuff thinking, ‘It’s an evacuation. Do I take 20 more minutes and grab three more purses and some clothes? Or do I just get in my car and go?’ I thought I better go,” Weiss said. “Of course, now I know I could have stayed two more hours, but how did I know then?”
Weiss said she heard stories of neighbors who stayed despite the evacuation order, using garden hoses to defend their properties and only leaving once the situation became life-threatening.
As a newer member of the community, the Nov. 9 evacuation was her first. She said she spoke to neighbors who have been threatened by wildfires multiple times before but none expected to return home to the devastation they found following the recent Woolsey fire.
Somehow they felt secure.
“The fire department has been here to talk to us about fire safety. They said, ‘This is not a place you shelter. You leave, and we’ll take care of it.’ They also said that because we live on National Park land, they can get extra resources to protect us. We thought, ‘Great, extra!’” Weiss said.
“Where were they? There were people here running for their lives after 8 in the morning and no fire trucks. I feel kind of abandoned.”
Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said during their post-fire media briefings that they had to make deployment decisions based on threat priority.
Weiss watched news of the fire from her cousin’s couch and learned that the entire upper park, including her home, had been destroyed.
Residents whose homes were untouched were also displaced. Barbara Miller, her husband and their dog spent 11 days in a motor home parked in the Whizin center parking lot in Agoura Hills.
When they’d heard about the fires, Miller and her husband took the precaution to move their motor home out of the canyon. They evacuated to the vehicle at 2 a.m. Nov. 9.
Their Seminole Springs trailer sits on the south side of a creek that divides the park in two. That creek, which shows scars from the fire, may have saved the community from complete ruin. Some homes on the southern edge were damaged or destroyed, but for the most part the fire failed to jump from north to south.
Residents say the disaster has bonded the community.
Neighbors who never spoke before have helped each other search destroyed lots for keepsakes that may have survived the flames. They offer supplies and help any way they can, but it will be some time before the community is whole again.
“It shocked me to see (the damage) in person. It hurt my heart,” Miller said. “But it’s all about community now. We’re one big family. Everyone who can help is helping. The Salvation Army filled the community clubhouse with cleaning supplies, water and other supplies.”
While the community is labeled a mobile home park, the term is a misnomer—these are not trailers that can be hitched to the back of a truck and driven away. They are manufactured off site, transported to the owner’s lot in pieces and assembled on site. Between clearing the land, getting new homes to the area and assembling them, the recovery process will not be quick.
Weiss filed a claim with her insurance agent, registered with FEMA and spoke with the Red Cross. She’s been looking for a rental home but said that between the high prices and low availability she hasn’t had any luck. In the meantime, she’s still looking for pieces of her old home.
“You think you’re going to find something. . . . Some people said they found their diamond ring. It’s worth it,” Weiss said.
Ricky Santos is a 24-year-old who lived in Seminole Springs with his family. He and his parents returned to the rubble of their former home to take photos for their insurance company and to see what, if anything, could be salvaged.
“They’re hard moments. All of your hard work, it’s fallen to ashes,” Santos said. “It’s devastating, but what we’ve got to do is just keep our heads up and keep moving forward.”