Thousand Oaks is named for the pinnacle species of the sage. The crown of the Coastal Oak are waxy bowls with points. Fallen leaves turn downwards in layers that trap rainwater. The trees, which are drought tolerant and fire resistant, stabilize the landscape. Recognizing this, city law protects all specimens.
Westlake Village takes its name from the artificial lake that drains through the property on which Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood was staged. The property was converted to a park with mobile homes nestled among the oaks. The ambitions of the developer led them to place roads and foundations too close to the oaks, reducing the size of the leaf litter fields and so starving the roots of moisture.
My parents moved into the park thirty years ago, and my father spent twenty years educating the residents on the importance of the oaks for fire safety. When the oak rooted in the middle of the street outside their unit fell, four acorns sprouted in their yard. Fifteen years later, the crowns shield the roof.
At 10 AM Friday morning, the Santa Ana wins shifted from seaward to blow down the 101 freeway. Half an hour later, my son Kevin sent me a link to live helicopter footage. Fire crews were deployed on the ridge above the park, flames licking at the expensive decks. The valley below was hidden by smoke blown from the blaze that had closed the 101 at Reyes Adobe.
The consensus among family members was that my brother and mother had lost everything to the flames.
The pictures below were taken this morning. The winds had subsided overnight, and as I drove into the park the fire team that had secured the hillsides was gathered to leave. As I inspected the park, it was clear that at least one heroic fire team had been working under the smoke the prior day.
Though homes were lost, the battle was won at the downstream end of the park. The last unit caught up in flames had holes punched through windows and sides. A cul-de-sac separated it from its neighbor, and the descending shield of an oak crown whose leaves had been singed but resisted burning.
On the other side of the road, the defense had been mounted at a gully that drained into the stream. The power of the fire was evident in the ruins, but also the resilience of the neighboring oaks that had burned only on one side.
With the progress of the fire blunted, apparently it followed its updraft along the hillsides on either side. A photo from the street running up to the ridge shows the effectiveness of the oaks in protecting the combustible mobile homes from embers.
Finally, the joy of anticipation that another holiday season will be spent in my mother’s home.
And gratitude to the oaks for protecting the homes of those that protected and nurtured them.