Joe Menz and his wife, Teresa, woke up around 1 a.m. to the sound of their neighbor pounding on their back patio door.
“There’s a fire coming and it’s mandatory evacuation. You better get out now,” he recalled the neighbor telling him.
Startled, Menz wasn’t left with much time to gather things from their home. He grabbed food, water and his medication — things he would need if they ended up having to sleep in the car.
When he and his wife stepped outside, they found their neighbors lined up on the street and trying to catch a glimpse of the fire.
“Every neighbor on both sides was out there,” he said. “We’re all looking at each other like: ‘Now where do we go? What do we do?’”
Menz, who has lived in Thousand Oaks for 35 years, said he could see the flames licking the ridge in front of his home.
“That’s how close it was,” he said.
He said the weather station at his home picked up 55 mph winds Friday morning.
“I thought my back fence was going to blow over,” he said, clutching his backpack.
By 2 a.m., they reached the Goebel Adult Community Center, next door to the Thousand Oaks Teen Center.
Since then, he’s been on the phone with his children to let them know he’s OK. His son, he said, worked for the Ventura County Fire Department as a firefighter before moving away.
“He said, I’m about to jump on a plane and start helping,” Menz said. “I told him that’s not necessary.”
Arita Kronska slept through news that her Westlake Village neighborhood had been placed under mandatory evacuation.
She found out only when her daughter called her Friday morning around 5 a.m., worried.
“I’ve lived here since 1998,” she said, standing on the lawn in front of the teen center in Thousand Oaks with her dog, Yoda. “This is the first time I’ve seen a fire like this.”
Kronska said her home was about 11 miles from the evacuation center. As she stood in her home before she left, she wondered what she should take. She decided on two things: her passport and her dog.
In the predawn hours, she said, her street was eerily quiet.
“Nobody was there anymore,” she said. “It was a very strange feeling...no people, no driving...like in those movies about the apocalypse.”