Apologies for being late with this year's card, but as you can see, we've had a few problems.  The biggest of them was the Thomas Fire, now ranked as the second-largest in California History, surpassed in 2018 by the Woolsey and Camp Fires.

This was the view from our driveway on December 6th.  Our neighbor is evacuating his family.

      It began fifteen miles from our home December 4th, on the first day of a fifty mile-an-hour Santa-Ana wind event.  Single-digit humidity, combined with an excess of dry vegetation, propelled the wall of flames to Ojai on three sides, and beyond. It became unstoppable. 

     As of this writing, December 21, it has been responsible for two deaths, has destroyed at least 750 homes, and has burned about 425 square miles (1,100 square kilometers).


The view from our front yard, the evening of December 5.


     My wife Jade and I spent three days in an evacuation center with 250 other refugees under mandatory evacuation orders.  We are radio amateurs (hams) and have been certified by the county to assist with emergency relief efforts.  When the ARES teams were activated, we were dispatched to the Red Cross radio station at Nordhoff High School.  We and other Ventura county hams kept the four refugee centers in contact with each other, passing information to and from them and the county central Emergency Operations Center.

     At midnight on the sixth we sheltered in place, surrounded by fire crews as the flames came to within two miles of us.  When we finally returned home, we were relieved to find it intact.  Many of our friends and neighbors were not so lucky. They returned to find their homes had been reduced to smoking piles of ash.


The Card

   I took the background photo for the card on the evening of the 9th.  I used my trusty old Nikon D80 on a tripod, with a 200mm zoom at full extension.  By then the tide of fire had moved on, leaving "hot spots" behind.  Most firefighters were out of town by then, trying to get ahead of the fire, which was rampaging into Santa Barbara county. It is a night view of the north side of Sulphur Mountain, still scary even though there actually wasn't much left to burn. As a nasty farewell, the Thomas Fire left a cloud of toxic smog in its wake.  It made me and my wife ill, and sent others to the hospital.

    Santa and company were assembled from various clipart, squeezed, stretched, colorized, shaded and superimposed. We had to scramble to make post office deadlines, because the mail had been shut down by the disaster.


Going home:  December 9th.  Left to right: Ken Williams, KI6VDT; 
Red Cross volunteer manager Judy Oberlander, Jade Smith KI6VFQ, Wayne Francis, W6OEU.


     The lessons were clear: 

          --Be thankful for what you have.  You won't have it forever, and it can disappear overnight.

          --Global warming is no joke. With hurricanes or forest fires, we are all in the same boat.

          --Common people show uncommon courage and forbearance when faced with a common enemy.


     We hope you have a happy, peaceful and a safe New Year.


Photo by Jade Smith

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