'My heart goes out': Whitchurch-born Bec caught up in Californian wildfires

Reporter:

Barrie White

A woman born in Whitchurch and now living in California has spoken of her panic at being caught up in the terrifying wildfires.

Bec O’Neal, 27, who grew up in Whixall, was forced to evacuate the home she shares with husband Chris, a reporter, in Ventura, California, with all of their belongings and Dougal, their pug.

The ‘Thomas’ fires have brought devastation to the area north of Los Angeles, with reports suggesting it has burned areas larger than New York City and Boston combined and Bec admitted that while their house has survived, many haven’t.

“It’s been sad driving around the city and seeing the beautiful homes and palm trees being burned and destroyed,” she said.

“I am thankful for how lucky we have been, but my heart goes out to those who have lost their homes.”

The couple originally thought they would be safe after hearing a fire had broken out around 15 minutes away, but the frantic knocking of a neighbour soon brought the reality to their door.

Bec, who is a brewery sales rep, continued: “At midnight, we got a frantic knock on our door from our neighbour – we were half asleep.

“He told us had we thought about evacuating and we thought why? We’re nowhere near the fire.

“It was then we stepped out of the house and saw the mountain – just half a mile from our house – engulfed in flames. It was like a furnace, and the wind was hitting hard.

“During the evacuation, I was thinking of the worst as you can’t help it. What if our house does set on fire? Where would we stay? What could we do? I moved to the US four years ago with just a suitcase containing necessities.

“Since then I’ve assembled a beautiful home with my husband in a city which we love – the thought of losing it all and having to start from scratch again was distressing.

“I was getting extra worried because neither of us any phone reception to get in touch with loved ones to tell them we were okay, and wouldn’t be able to hear any information about our home either.

“Finally we flagged down a policeman on duty who told us we needed to head even further north to Buellton as they were on a completely different electrical grid.

“By now it was 1am and we were low on fuel; we couldn’t fill up as all the stations were out of power. We headed to Buellton and to our relief the city was functioning as if nothing down south was happening.

“We were lucky to find a pet-friendly hotel at 2am. It was crazy to think how the fire, in such a short time, had affected everything so quickly.

“Imagine both Cheshire and Shropshire counties being out of power, all at once, and having to travel 80 miles to even make a phone call.”

Bec added the community is trying to maintain Christmas spirit as food outlets gave free food to those affected or to the emergency services, with donations centres set up.

Bec’s dad, Dave Birch, told The Herald of his despair of not hearing from his daughter while the fires raged.

He added: “As a father a thousand miles away across the Atlantic, I was feeling totally useless.

“With WiFi connection she phoned us, to our relief. We chatted for ages before I could tell they, including the pug, needed a rest.”

Email:

barrie.white@nwn.co.uk

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