California wildfires called terrifying by local native who witnessed destruction

Ben Poston was able to leave his western Malibu condominium before the California wildfires ripped through his complex, destroying at least 20 homes and leaving the hillsides surrounding the community looking like a moonscape.

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Thousands have lost their homes in the California wildfires, but Poston, a Springfield native, was one of the lucky people who did not. The fire has claimed the lives of at least 40 people and the newest fire damage survey shows the devastation to homes and buildings is expected to increase.

“It’s terrifying, absolutely terrifying,” said Poston, who graduated from Springfield North High School and is a Los Angeles Times reporter.

A team of five Red Cross volunteers from the Dayton-Cincinnati region is on its way to California to assist with the wildfires recovery, officials said Tuesday.

Five volunteers may seem like a small group, given the magnitude of the wildfires, but it’s significant in Red Cross terms, said Marita Salkowski, regional communications and marketing director for the American Red Cross of Greater Cincinnati-Dayton Region.

“Think of ripples in the water,” she said. “Typically, areas closest to the disaster respond first, then depending on the scope of the disaster the response widens. The fact that this region has sent five volunteers and will undoubtedly send more to California gives you an idea of the scope of this disaster.”

The fire, which started in the town of Paradise and has been burning for more than a week, destroyed more than 71,000 structures, including 6,453 homes, according to media reports. In addition, more than 200 people are missing in and around the town of Paradise, the local sheriff has said.

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Poston has been reporting about the wildfires in the area around his home.

“Hits home in a way that is new to me,” Poston said.

Interviewing many residents in Malibu around Zuma Beach, Poston said they described having a sense of fear for their families and their homes. He said some looked up to Point Dume from Zuma Beach and they saw their homes burn right in front of their eyes.

“And knowing that my home was five to 10 miles just west of there, and that it was in danger, I can understand what they are going through,” Poston said.

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The hills surrounding Malibu were described as a moonscape because the burn is so clean. It looks clean, with no brush or grass. It is black and white, Poston said.

The wildfires have brought looters to the area and Poston said he spoke to a resident that had seen a man on a dirt bike with a mask on that was scoping out the area. Poston had seen a similar man on Sunday.

He spoke with the property manager and they reported that there were three men on dirt bikes wearing bandannas on Monday.

“Going in and out of apartments, basically looting, and what they were doing was going into units, that had already been broken down by firefighters that needed to get access to fight the fires,” Poston had said recalling his conversation with the property manager.

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The manager had asked the men what they were doing and for their identification, but they ignored him. He told them you can’t be here and one showed a pistol. The manger then went to the fire station across the street and he reported it to police officers there.

“It is weird, the first time covering, for me, a natural disaster where I’m personally affected,” Poston said.

This time of year in California, in November and December, is the hardest time of year to get through because of wildfire season.

When Poston left his home Friday, he didn’t think he would come home to it again.

“I think it’s a fear of the unknown. I think its just when you’re removed from the situation, and you’re totally helpless and totally powerless, you can’t get any information,” Poston said.

Poston said the firefighters are “doing an amazing job” trying to contain the fires.

“We’re safe, our condo made it,” Poston said. “We’re incredibly lucky but we feel terrible for the people in our complex and all the others in Malibu.”

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