Thousands of oak trees fight with "nonstop chaos" between angry forest fires and a shooting massacre

An American flag blows at the half-mast as the Woolsey Fire burns in the background near the Goebel Senior Adult Center, which is used as a forest fire evacuation center, less than 48 hours after 12 people were killed in a mass shooting at a local bar. (Philip Cheung / For The Washington Post) THOUSAND OAK, California – In a 24-hour period, Sgt. Eric Buschow worked two tragedies and slept no more than two hours. Buschow, an information officer from the Sheriff's Office of Ventura County, responded late Wednesday to a raid on Borderline Bar and Grill that killed 12 people. He worked the scene all day long when the FBI arrived and the names of the victims became known before finally going to bed at 7:00 pm. Thursday. Two hours later he was awake again. The angry Woolsey Fire, starting this afternoon and growing rapidly, had sneaked too close to his family home. They had to evacuate. Thousands of oak trees fight with two tragedies that meet within hours and suffer more traumas and grief than any place could or should endure. After the shoot in Borderline, a popular country music bar, many residents said they stay up late and wait for news. They went to bed physically and emotionally exhausted on Thursday, then, in the middle of the night, being awakened by emergency calls from their phones and hectic neighbor attacks. They had to go, they were told. "Each of these incidents would be a significant issue at any time," Buschow said. "But if they all come together at once, it's just unprecedented for us." This city of nearly 130,000 is big enough to feel big enough, where many people are familiar faces. In this family-friendly town with dozens of parks and playgrounds, there are red Spanish roofs. On Friday, the normally picturesque city was surrounded by smoke. Buschow and his family had to sleep in a car parked in a community college car park. The fire threatened many of the nearby evacuation shelters, and the hotels in Thousand Oaks were full of reporters and residents in the area looking for security. When the sun rose, the wife and children returned to their house, which survived the fire, and he went to work. Hundreds of staff from more than 30 law enforcement agencies across the state gathered in the Thousand Oaks area to help with firing, then fire. [They survived Las Vegas. Then came a second mass shooting.] The FBI was there to investigate the shooting in a scene from hell. The Agency's efforts were hampered by fears that debris and smoke from wildfire could contaminate evidence from the shooting. The patrons threw stools through the windows to escape, leaving holes in the walls that the FBI brought aboard, Buschow said.
People are praying in front of Alex Fiore's Thousand Oaks Teen Center, which serves as an outdoor evacuation center for residents protecting themselves from the Woolsey Fire on Friday. (Philip Cheung / For The Washington Post) There is a risk of the fire burning towards the bar. Buschow said law enforcement agencies were looking for ways to mitigate the risk, and there is an emergency plan to keep the scene and the agents working to keep it safe. After working all day, the FBI agents retreated to their hotel near Agoura Hills, but were evacuated when the Woolsey Fire, one of several forest fires in Southern California, approached , The agents fled, Buschow said. They had nowhere to go, so they slept in their cars as well. He said, "But you know what, they were back at the borderline at five o'clock in the morning to do their job." One of the fires blasted Highway 101, a main road connecting communities across the valley, clogging traffic arteries, and the First responders who were sent to relieve people like Buschow were delayed for hours. "It was absolutely chaotic, all-out chaos," Buschow said. [The 12 lives lost in the California bar shooting] He added, "We also have a funeral to plan a fallen sergeant." Sgt. Ron Helus, a 30-year-old veteran of the sheriff's office, was one of those killed at the bar. About three miles from the borderline, the officers had to reuse the Thousand Oaks Teen Center. On Thursday, relatives and friends of borderline missing persons were told if their relatives were among the 12 dead. The people cried and hugged and prayed. A man told the world through sobs that his beloved son was dead and his last words to his child were, "Son, I love you." Members of the clergy poured through the front door, and a small therapy horse shuffled between the counter and center. About 12 hours later, the complex reopened its doors, this time to flee the residents from the flames. A gym was filled with green cots. A woman with oxygen lay on one of the cots, a dog by her side. People wore green masks to protect themselves from the smoke. Others helped with water and food: muffins, cereal bars, fruits, croissants and blueberry scones. In the senior center next door, a group of mostly older residents sat at long tables and watched television. On a hill near the center, a small fire broke out on Friday morning, but was quickly doused by firefighters. Patricia Reynolds, 57, was sitting on metal stands with her daughter Lyndsay Witkoski, 25, and her neighbor Mary Ann Best, 90, at the Teen Center gym. "It was an emotional roller coaster ride for me," she said in tears. "My heart hurts everyone." She had stayed awake at 4am until Thursday and had seen the news of the borderline shoot. At night her phone hummed: she had to vacate her apartment complex. Her husband and son were at work and their daughter attended college in Northridge, a district of Los Angeles, about 35 miles northeast. "I did not know what to do," Witkoski said, sobbing. She was already in pain shooting and felt lost. "I decided to come home anyway because I did not know what to do."
Patricia Reynolds, 57, is overcome with emotion on Friday as she waits in a temporary dorm for residents sheltering from the Woolsey Fire at the Alex Fiore Thousand Oaks Teen Center. (Philip Cheung / For The Washington Post) Seventeen year old Karissa Herbert knew what she had to do. She and her friends came to the center bringing toothbrushes, deodorants and snacks for the evacuees. The seniors at Rancho Campana High School in Camarillo, west of Thousand Oaks, knew the people who had survived borderline bar-shooting. The borderline is one of the few areas in the area where people under the age of 21 can go out at night. Herbert said that on Thursday she sent hourly text messages to a friend who had escaped filming. On Friday, she felt the urge to help the evacuees escape. "What are the chances of seeing a fire right after shooting?" Herbert said. "The first responders had to deal with the loss of these innocent teens and then with the fire. It's like, how much can we take with us? Beatriz Bera sat exhausted in a hotel lobby at 4am on Friday night. She and her family were woken two hours ago by alerts on their phone calling for evacuation, followed by their housekeeper knocking on the door. Bera's family came to a hotel where their mother is a housekeeper. "It's too much, first with the borderline shooting, now with the fire," said 21-year-old Bera, the deputy dean of the students at California Lutheran University saying, "The whole city of Thousand Oaks is tired "Outside the campus, Brandon Apelian beckoned with a black-and-white flag with an orange stripe – a banner that honors the fighters – as a classmate approached him." I just wanted to tell you that you're out here made my day, "said Ramon Olivier, 22, senior and music production specialist at the school." My buddy Meek has died. "Olivier had been forced to leave the house while mourning his classmate Justin Meek, who was on borderline The school president called Meek "one of the best students we've ever had." Meek and Olivier played water polo at school, Meek joined Killed the attempt to save others in the nightclub, the university said in a statement. "It hurts to see everyone hurt," Olivier said. "This community is so connected." Katie.mettler@washpost.com Annie Gowen and Tony Biasotti from Thousand Oaks, California contributed to this report.

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