Over the past couple of years my wife Kathy and I have been taken short trips (2-3 days) to different parts of southern California. She hasn’t seen much outside of Los Angeles, despite having lived here for a long time, and there are areas I have passed around the edges of but haven’t really gotten to know. One of our finds has been Ventura County, which lies immediately to the west of Los Angeles County. I discovered the Santa Clara River through my readings, and learned that it’s the only free-running river (no dams, no concrete channelization) in southern California, and we’ve spent quite a bit of time there in the past year. This winter break, we decided that we ought to get to know the city of Ventura, which we’ve passed through a lot of times heading north, but never really explored.
The city of Ventura lies in the far southwest side of the county. Lying on the coast, it’s rather small by southern California standards–it only has a bit more than 100,000 people–and is in fact only the fourth most populous city in the county (the three bigger cities, in descending order, are Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, and Simi Valley). We drove through it in August and liked the way it felt, and decided to return to get to know it better.
This was before the Thomas fire started on December 4. That fire has now burned the most acreage in modern California history. As you can see from the aerial shot at the top of the post, Ventura is squeezed in along some coastal hills which are largely unpopulated but are (or rather were) covered with chaparral, made up largely of resinous woody shrubs that are quite combustible. The Thomas fire started about 12 miles to the north of Ventura near Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula on December 4 (hence the name of the fire), a night with raging Santa Ana winds. The fire spread rapidly across the hills and struck Ventura from the north on the following morning. The city lost more than 500 homes, as we saw when we got there.
By the time we arrived, the fire had moved out of Ventura County and into Santa Barbara County. As you’ll see in coming posts, though there was evidence of the fire everywhere we looked….and smelled. It didn’t prevent us from having a great time, but it did restrict some of what we could do.
Before getting into the details of our trip, I want to share some maps that the Los Angeles Times printed on Sunday, December 17, 2017 comparing the size of the Thomas fire to large American cities (it’s somewhat larger now). Here’s the coverage as of December 17 on the ground in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties:
Here’s the size of the fire compared to the City of Los Angeles:
Here, the size compared to the San Francisco Bay Area:
Here’s what it looks like compared to metropolitan New York City:
Here, to metropolitan and suburban Chicago:
And finally, to the island of Maui:
That’s a big fire, even if it’s burning in largely unpopulated chaparral. You’ll also be impressed when you see just how hot a chaparral fire burns, leaving practically nothing behind.