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Ventura apartment tenants, homeowners return to see Thomas fire destruction

By in Press Enterprise on December 7, 2017

By Liset Marquez

John Camilli, resident manager of the Hawaiian Village apartments in Ventura, said most people only got out with the shirts on their backs after the Thomas fire erupted.

He stood at the top of the driveway of the apartments and watched as crews Wednesday afternoon doused water on a hotspot. This was the second time since the fire they had come to the site, Camilli said.

Like the 150 people who lived in the 53 units, Camilli said he’s now homeless and living in his car.

“They thought they were coming back so they didn’t take much,” he said.

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Residents first began smelling smoke Monday around 9 p.m. and some decided to pack up and evacuate. Then between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. the air conditions were getting bad and more and more people left.

“All the last hold-outs started cuing up their cars and waiting till the last second because no one wanted to believe it was coming this way,” Camilli said.

The Hawaiian Village apartments, in downtown Ventura, burned in the Thomas fire, are seen on Wednesday Dec. 6, 2017. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

At about 11 p.m. they got an emergency notification on their cell phones to evacuate.

It’s also when Camilli said he could see 20-foot to 30-foot flames coming over the hillside.

“Every time the Santa Anna winds would throw a gust at us, it would start raining embers down on the property,” he said.

Camilli said the glowing embers were the size of golf balls.

He acknowledged he grabbed a garden hose thinking he could stave off the flames from the apartments with picturesque views

“The first time I got pelted with all of these live embers I knew I had to get out of there,” he said.

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