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California fires: Resident ‘numb and ecstatic’ as flames miss home

When pediatrician Paul Whyte left his home at the end of Via Nicola in Newbury Park to head to work Thursday morning, he figured his wife would keep him apprised of fire developments.

It didn’t take long for her to call him at his office: “Honey, it’s coming up, the fire is coming up,” she told him. Then she asked him to come home.

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Reluctant to leave his long line of patients, he told her to call back if things got worse. She called back 10 minutes later: “The fire is in the backyard, the helicopters are over our backyard. We need to evacuate and take what we can.”

PHOTOS: Camarillo brush fire

He left work, drove up his street to his large house at the end of Via Nicola, a cul de sac that flanks the hills where the fire burned. His house sits at the end of a long driveway at the back of the cul de sac.

“I saw my house, and then I saw the flames, two to three stories high, behind and above my house. I thought, ‘That’s not good,’” he said.

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Once he saw his house was intact, he gathered his family – two children living with him, one visiting from postgraduate studies, two cats and thee dogs.

MAP: Southland fires

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“It’s a real Noah’s Ark,” he said.

He stood in his driveway, his glasses covered with a thin film of ash. His short-sleeved collared shirt and khaki pants also dirty with a light dusting. He looked around his property, which was charred, and some of which was still burning.

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Just then, a number of flames at least 15 feet high swept over a hill. Firefighters assured him they were controlling that and letting it burn out. Wind whipped fast, and smoke filled the air.

Whyte and his wife ran up to the driveway and into their house, shielding their faces from the smoke.

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They moved into the home four months ago and Whyte had a business card in his pocket from a landscaping service that specializes in weed abatement. He was planning on paying thousands of dollars to clean up the shrubbery.

“I’ll have to call him now and tell him not to come tomorrow,” he said with a laugh, looking at the card. “I’m somewhere between numb and ecstatic. My pets, my family, my house, are all OK. Life goes on.”

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Twitter: @cmaiduc


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