Chris Kofron: Faces of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Thomas Fire)
Senior biologist Chris Kofron recounts his personal experience during the Thomas Fire, the largest fire in California’s history

On December 4, 2017, the Thomas Fire ignited in Ventura County and spread rapidly, becoming the largest wildfire in state history. The fire burned for 40 days, and covered more than 440 square miles, destroying more than 1,000 homes and structures. More than 8,500 firefighters worked to contain the blaze, the largest mobilization of firefighters in California history. Residing in the foothills of Ventura, senior biologist Chris Kofron shares his experience the night the fire began.

“I live in the Skyline neighborhood in Ventura, which is like a thumb projecting up into the foothills. The area is surrounded by native vegetation on three sides. The electricity in the entire city went out that night, so we had to grab our essential belongings by flashlight. The first flames came from the north around 10:30 p.m.  The firefighters defended the neighborhood and saved every house. Then the fire moved on toward the downtown area of Ventura.  Later, more flames came from the east around 3:00 a.m. We knew it was coming because of the orange glow in the sky that kept getting brighter. The firefighters were now fighting the fire on a broad front, and firefighting resources were limited. The wind was blowing at 59 mph and gusting at 70 mph.  Ashes and embers were falling.  My wife and I left when the fire was at the edge of the neighborhood.

My older son Thomas, a firefighter with CalFire, stayed behind.  He was on leave at the time.  Thomas defended our house and saved it.  The balcony caught fire and he put it out.  The retaining walls caught fire – he pulled up the flaming timbers and threw them down the slope.  Half of the homes in my neighborhood burned down.  We are living in my house now, but seven of the 13 homes on my street are gone.

The people in my office and in the Ventura community were especially supportive throughout this experience.  The police and National Guard prevented access to my neighborhood and house after the fire had moved on because it was a disaster area. When access was allowed, the air quality was initially too bad to live there.

On January 12, more than a month after it began, officials reported the Thomas Fire was officially 100 percent contained, no longer threatening the communities of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and the Ojai Valley. But heavy rainfall early in 2018 led to extensive debris flow and flooding, closing major highways including the 101 freeway, and leading to deaths and injuries in the Montecito area. It’s mid-January, and we’re back in our home and we’re moving forward, but this community and the people living in it will forever be changed. We’re grateful for the outpouring of support from our coworkers, friends, and community, and especially the first responders who put their lives on the line to save ours and our property.“

Story Tags

Biologists (USFWS)
Employees (USFWS)