Multiple fires are raging in Southern California. A series of Santa Ana wind-driven wildfires have destroyed hundreds of structures, forced thousands to flee and smothered the region with smoke in what officials predicted would be a pitched battle for days.

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Ventura fire

To some, the oaky ash in Faria Beach looks like snow, or an 'upside down Christmas'

The Thomas fire reaches the 101 Freeway at Faria Beach. (Wally Skalij)
The Thomas fire reaches the 101 Freeway at Faria Beach. (Wally Skalij)

Brent Clark, 58, stood on the roof of his Faria Beach home and began watering the wooden roof tiles. Past the railroad tracks and Highway 1, flames made their way down the hillsides as they burned through acres of chaparral. 

Looking at the flames, Kay Clark, 58, turned her attention to a cypress tree near their home.

“That tree worries me,” she said.

The erratic wind shifts had driven the Thomas fire as far as Hobson Beach Park, which sits about three miles north from of Faria Beach. 

The fire has kept residents nervous even here.

“Everything depends on what the winds do,” Brent Clark said.

Tuesday night, residents of Faria Beach were told to evacuate as flames made their way over a ridge and began to approach the small beach community. The fire was headed toward Solimar Beach, just south of Faria Beach.

Among those evacuated was Joe Ruffner, 65. 

“The wind was blowing north, south, sometimes it seemed like it was doing both at the same time,” Ruffner said.

Kay Clark said she noticed “fire whirls” as the flames continued to approach the seaside town.

The fire left all the beach communities without power Tuesday. Wednesday was Day Two. 

Eating a chocolate pastry,  Ruffner hoped the power would come back soon. 

Nearby, Jim Petit, 82, used a generator to keep power in his home. He said he put five gallons of gasoline into the generator in the morning and used a timer to keep track of it.

Outside their homes, Petit and Kay Clark talked.

“We’re not out of it yet,” Petit mentioned.

“We’re still not out of the woods,” Key Clark said.

As hours went by, ash settled on beach rocks, on cars, even the hair of onlookers who cut through the beach town to photograph the fire. At least three Amtrak Surfliners passed through the town, even as the fires raged on.

The ash, upon a closer look, consisted of burned leaves, mostly oak.

Ruffner said he was surprised to see how far the charred oak had travelled. 

“It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘fall leaves,’” Kay Clark said. “It looks like it’s snowing. It’s like Christmas. An upside-down Christmas.”

Nineteen miles North, residents in La Conchita braced for the worst as they watched the orange hazy smoke at a distance. Two-story and single-story homes sit along the base of the hillsides. The buildings sit next to each other with very little space in between. The neighborhood is surrounded by dry chaparral and other plants that have not burned for decades. Some residents watered their roofs, and others packed things into cars and trucks. A few focused on getting their horses from a nearby stable. 

Like everybody else, this small beach community was on edge. Residents wondered what the winds would bring.

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