VENTURA, Calif. — They had run for their lives by the thousands when the devastating wildfires raced across a huge swath of brush-covered Southern California hillsides, and they had survived.
But hundreds had to flee so quickly they left literally everything behind.
On Wednesday, heartbroken people began to take stock of everything they lost in a manner of minutes, from their beloved four-legged companions who got separated from them during the chaos to a lifetime of memories encapsulated in photos, jewelry and other keepsakes.
“Everything burned,” Marolyn Romero-Sim said as she sat on a cot weeping at an evacuation center at the sprawling Ventura County Fairgrounds. “Everything is ashes. Everything. We don’t have a place to live. We lost stuff we can’t get back. Baby pictures. They were on a hard drive.”
She said her husband, Hugo Romero-Rodriguez, was racked with guilt that he couldn’t get inside the modest RV his family called home to rescue anything — including their beloved little dog, Coqueta. She was trapped in a crate inside when the vehicle erupted in flames. Romero-Rodriguez suffered cuts on his leg and hand and a burn on his arm trying to get to inside to save Coqueta.
“He was sitting there in the driver’s seat and he couldn’t move,” Romero-Sim said, recalling how she, her husband and their 9-year-old daughter, Milagros, sat in their truck, watching the RV burn before finally realizing they had to flee.
“He just kept watching and he feels so guilty that he couldn’t save it,” she continued. “I told him he did everything he could and he did what he had to save our lives.”
Lisa Kermode and her family were immersed in similar anguish after returning to their home in the hills above Ventura on Tuesday to discover it had burned to the ground. They had barely escaped the flames the night…