Dozens of evacuees clustered in small groups around the sanctuary of Camarillo’s Calvary Nexus church. Some were picking at paper plates of ziti with meat sauce that had been doled out by American Red Cross volunteers. Most couldn’t take their eyes off the stadium-size TV screen at the front of the room, with its nonstop TV news coverage of the blaze that had driven them out.
Most were students from Cal State Channel Islands, where fierce winds had driven the flames uncomfortably close to the campus. University officials called off classes for the school’s nearly 5,000 students and ordered the hundreds living in campus dormitories to leave.
Brianna Medrano, a student from Fontana, said she woke up at about 8 a.m. and not long afterward heard the announcement on a dormitory public address system. Campus employees proceeded up and down corridors, knocking on doors to make sure students had shut their windows and turned off their air conditioners.
“I went into my two-minute panic mode,” Medrano said. By the time her grandfather called, she had grabbed her laptop and a couple of other essentials.
“He said, 'Are you getting out of there? So you’re OK? Are you sure you’re OK?'”
Her friend Christian Usher got word about the impending evacuation from an automated call. He immediately called other students, some of whom he figured would still be asleep and may have missed the campus-wide alerts.
“I’m used to this,” he said. “I’m from San Bernardino."
For Paul and Terry Doebler, it was a first. Transplants from New York City, the retirees live in the Camarillo Springs neighborhood. While there have been some close calls in the past, this was their first evacuation.
“I woke up choking from the smoke,” Terry Doebler said.
“I opened the front door and the whole mountain was on fire,” Paul Doebler said.
But the morning’s trauma was hardly visible as they sat with their yellow Lab Mandy, chatting with people dropping by their table. Terry Doebler fielded calls on her cellphone from neighbors in their community, most of them elderly. They were, it turned out, OK.
[For the record, 3 p.m. May 2: An earlier version of this post referred to the evacuation site as Calvary Community Chapel.]