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OjaiVentura fire

Flames and Santa Ana winds batter Ojai's beloved oaks

Juan Hernandez, 32, inspects one of many oak trees toppled by fierce winds in Ojai. (Louis Sahagun)
Juan Hernandez, 32, inspects one of many oak trees toppled by fierce winds in Ojai. (Louis Sahagun)

Tree hugging is an honored tradition in the bucolic mountain town of Ojai, which sits in the middle of an ancient oak forest that has survived wildfires, earthquakes and floods.

Over the years, residents have built homes, shops and parks around its trees, and written poetic odes to their arboreal spirits.

Now however, the people and the oaks of Ojai are facing a threat that is stirring up a host of miseries -- strong Santa Ana winds that are forecast to hammer the region again Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the winds fanned ravenous wildfires, knocked over dozens of oaks, and created a massive cleanup.

All across town Wednesday, ashes from encroaching fires were falling like snow; dust and other particulate matter coated homes and cars with grime; and streets and yards were littered with broken boughs, snapped limbs, leaves and avocados that were stripped from branches.

At daybreak, Juan Hernandez, 32, stood on the trunk of a massive, toppled oak tree for a better view of flames kicking up on the ridge lines just north of town.

“This tree was huge and strong,” he said, shaking his head. “But it was no match for those winds.”

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