November 12, 2018 / 11:03 PM / a month ago

California fire evacuees trickle back to deal with the ashes

NORTH RANCH, Calif. (Reuters) - Andy Schultz and his wife Marisa returned home on Monday dreading they would find nothing but charred ruins after the Woolsey wildfire swept down three surrounding hillsides toward their neighborhood in the Los Angeles suburb of North Ranch.

A home destroyed by the Woolsey Fire is seen in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

“That’s it. I thought our neighborhood was gone,” said Andy Schultz, 53, a physician. “We were surrounded by rapidly approaching fire.”

Instead of smoldering wreckage, however, they found that their neighborhood Tiffany Oaks, which consists of 13 homes spanning two cul-de-sacs, had been saved by firefighters, an oasis in an otherwise scorched landscape.

Two deaths have been linked to the fire, one of two major conflagrations in the state. The Camp Fire in northern California has killed 29 with over 200 missing.

The Schultz family can count themselves lucky.

They were among the more than 200,000 residents who were under mandatory evacuation orders as the Woolsey Fire, fed by hut, gusty winds known as the Santa Ana, rages in Southern California. It flared up on Thursday afternoon in the Simi Valley northwest of Los Angeles and has since burned 113,000 acres and is only 25 percent contained.

The fire has destroyed 370 homes and other structures, including in the celebrity enclave of Malibu.

Some stayed behind to protect their homes.

Malibu resident Tony Haynes told KTLA 5 TV that he put on his scuba tank for air when winds of up to 60 miles per hour (100 km per hour) tore through his Malibu neighborhood and put out small fires and hot spots around his home with bucket after bucket of water.

‘NOT THE HOUSE’

As they trickle back through the lingering smoke, many residents have found little but ashes remain of their homes and lives.

Malibu resident Marcella Shirk, 82, and her husband lost their house of 41 years and its possessions. The house burned on his 92nd birthday.

“It’s not the house, because you can rebuild. But it’s what is inside the house. It’s all gone,” Shirk told KABC-TV. “And that’s what hurts. Those kinds of things hurt, because you can’t replace that.”

Caren Leib, 51, former owner of popular boutique Siany in Westlake Village, was in her store on Monday offering free clothing to her many friends who lost everything in the fires. She and her husband, children and dog were evacuated from their home in the Malibu Park, across from popular Zuma Beach.

A home destroyed by the Woolsey Fire is seen in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

She said 77 houses have been destroyed, but hers was spared.

“We were able to go back Saturday and I was shocked by the sheer devastation. So many of my friends, at least 20, have lost their homes. If I were to think of everyone I know, about 50. At least. I’m a mess. It can’t be real.”

(GRAPHIC: Deadly California fires - tmsnrt.rs/2Plpuui)

Writing by Nick Carey and Bill Tarrant; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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