California wildfire: Malibu resident refuses to evacuate


Shari Bernath knows a thing or two about fires.

Living on a self-described ranch -- her property contains a lime green house, a trailer and a barn -- that sits off several windy dirt roads in Malibu’s northwestern hills, Bernath watched her home partially burn in a blaze 20 years ago.

So when she first saw the Springs fire, “way far away” early Thursday, she said she knew it would make its way to her home.

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“Somehow you just kind of know,” she said. “I can’t explain it.”

Bernath lives in the house just steps away from the trailer where her daughter, her daughter’s husband and the couple’s friend live. Signs tacked to a utility pole in the entrance to the property read “Akita XING,” though horses and chickens also roam the grounds.

As soon as Bernath saw the fire in the distance Thursday, she started loading horse trailers and taking pictures and art off the walls. Later that day sheriff’s deputies told the family to evacuate, but Bernath refused.

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“We just said ‘We’re not going.’ The fire department can only do so much. You know your land.”

Instead, Bernath said, the family sprang into “full-blown action.” They had taken hoses out, prepared buckets of water and lined every door in the house with wet towels.

By Friday morning they were asked again to evacuate, but did not. Around noon, Bernath said, things got “hot and very smoky.”

The flames would come as close as 100 yards from the property, so some family members flooded the barn with water to protect it.

“Along this whole ridge,” she said pointing, “the fire came up in walls.”

The family gathered in the garage and stood there until firefighters came and pushed the flames away.

By 3 p.m. Friday, signs of trouble had largely dissipated.

Firefighters sat on benches and in lawn chairs, peering out at billowing smoke as helicopters zipped overhead. Acres and acres of land burnt to a crisp were dotted with twigs where trees once stood and rolled out into the distance.

“There’s a lot of relief now,” Bernath said. “We could still burn, but there’s a lot of relief. We’re not going to have to worry for another 15 years.”


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