Image representing the Woolsey Fire

In California we are always aware of fire season. Our new contributor, Cheryl Farrell, connects a past experience during the Woolsey Fire and our theme of “Character”.

Thank you, Cheryl!


These times of overwhelming uncertainty evoke déjà vu in me. It could be that I’m old as salt and I’ve seen a few things. But, I think it’s more than that. I have felt this panic before, and I have learned how to find the good in a rubble of despair and disaster.

Tough Times & Uncertainty: The Woolsey Fire

One example began November 8, 2018 when my tranquil community of Thousand Oaks became an inferno. The Woolsey Fire burned more than 96,000 acres and there were three fatalities. More than 295,000 people were evacuated and my husband Wendell and I were among them.

The threat of a fire had been in the news, but I didn’t give it much attention. I was processing the horror of a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks that occurred the day before. As it turns out, time to grieve for the victims would be delayed.

On the evening of the fire, Wendell and I were home alone. My daughter was in New York in college and my son was in Northern California for a job interview.

I was frightened by the strong odor of smoke. It was like smelling the heat of danger. When I asked Wendell about it, he replied in his typical unflappable way, “Just keep the windows closed.” (Really?)

Within minutes, my intuition was confirmed by the evacuation robo-calls from the Ventura County Emergency Notification Center.

The Woolsey Fire, An Equal Opportunity Disaster

Turning onto the main boulevard at 10:30 p.m., I joined a long line of idle cars vying to escape. The only movement was from fire trucks racing in the opposite direction. As I inched along, it occurred to me that our well-heeled community had an “equal opportunity” disaster. It didn’t matter if belongings were stuffed in a late-model Tesla or a 2006 Miata. We were all the same as we faced the flames.

When we arrived in Mid-City Los Angeles, the only evidence of the fire was snowflakes of ash on sidewalks. Otherwise, life appeared normal just an hour away from our neighborhood.

After four anxious days, we got the all-clear to return home. On the drive to Thousand Oaks, the 101 Freeway looked like a war zone. Scorched hills reached from the crest to the shoulder of the road.

Finding the Good in a Difficult Situation

When we pulled up to our house, a firefighter said our cul-de-sac had been spared because a neighbor previously cleared brush beyond his property line. This unknown neighbor did so without fanfare or compensation. He did so without being told. His unselfish action saved lives. To this day, I don’t know his name and I never had a chance to thank him. He did what was right when no one was looking. The measure of his character.

Five Things I’ve Learned From the Woolsey Fire

Clear the brush from around your home

Cut the woody brush and small trees as close to the ground as possible using a tree pruner. Drag dried and dead brush out of the way and pile it up as you go. Dispose of all trimmed, dead and dried plants, limbs and brush as soon as possible. More info on clearing brush here.

Have an emergency/Disaster plan … a real one

Create a disaster supplies kit. Stay connected with friends and family by creating a communications plan. Know where you should go in a disaster. Protect your pets. Practice! More info on disaster plans here.

Forgive everyone and pray that they forgive you

Forgiveness is freeing. Compassion is a liberating choice. As Maya Angelou says: “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”

Hug first responders when you get a chance 

When everyone runs away, first responders run in. Their bravery, their dedication is awe inspiring. Don’t forget to give them thanks. They are leaving their families to help our communities. Our very own Kate Fuglei wtites about the first responders here and here are some ways to thank first responders.

Don’t worship things … be willing to lose it all 

(And, wearing the same bra for four days doesn’t matter)

Cheryl Farrell is a guest writer for

Cheryl Farrell

Cheryl Farrell is a corporate communications consultant and performance storyteller in Southern California. She has decades of experience in healthcare, education, and financial services. Cheryl was an original cast member of the Jeopardy! Clue Crew and toured the world appearing in more than 1,000 video clips. As a public speaker, she often examines how older black women excel at the intersections of race, gender, and age. Cheryl has a master’s degree in Communication Management from USC and a bachelor’s degree in economics from UCLA. She is married and has two adult children.

Photo credit - NiketaCH Photography

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