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The 1982 Agoura Fire

August 24, 2022

When you live in Southern California, you get used to wildfires. They come with great regularity every fall with the Santa Anna winds. I had seen more than my share as a youngster growing up in San Fernando, California. At one point, I was even the head of a volunteer mountain rescue squad and a volunteer firefighter. It was just a part of growing up in Southern California.

However, after graduating college I moved out of the immediate fire zone just enough to feel assured I wouldn’t get burned out of my house in an instant. It was a relief. I spent several years in the relative comfort of Granada Hills as I gazed at the yearly wildfires from afar. Yep, I was still a volunteer but at least the flames weren’t licking at my door.

In 1982 I was remarried to the love of my life. We immediately bought a new home in the tiny community of Oak Park, which in fact was a Ventura County borough near Agoura, California. We moved into our house in October of that year and we were struggling to get the place furnished. One morning my wife found that she had just bought some milk that was already sour. I suggested that she return it to the market and off she went in her car.

When she exchanged the bad milk at the market, she looked south and saw a great wall of flames leaping over the hills. She raced home and by then we both could see flames advancing from the south and the east. We were quickly being surrounded and to make matters worse, there was only one exit road to the west toward Agoura and the Ventura Freeway.

We had to think quickly. My wife threw our cat Peeper into a pillow case, grabbed the deed to our new house and raced off toward Agoura with my son.  As she left our neighborhood, trees were exploding on each side of her car as she sped down our narrow street. My son was scared, the cat was hysterical but finally everyone was gathered safely in the supermarket parking lot along with most of our neighbors. Ah, but what of me?

Because I had received so much fire fighting training in my youth, I elected to stay behind and attempt to save our house along with one other neighbor who decided to do the same. We helped each other as we were wetting down our houses with hoses that barely had any pressure. The roofs were fairly safe as they were made of terracotta tile but the rest of the fascia was vulnerable. We hosed down those portions extremely and hoped for the best.

The Santa Anna winds finally delivered the flames in one great burst. The fire swept over our houses so fast that the only damage was the occasional paint blister. We were very fortunate. The fire crews arrived and set back fires right in our garden. The sky was a ghastly color and I saw a hawk fall to the ground, overcome with smoke and heat. What seemed like days passed within an hour.

My wife returned safely with child and cat in tow and we sighed in relief together. It was only then that we looked around to survey the damage. Every single tree had been burnt to the ground, the grass was gone and the whole neighborhood resembled a moonscape in its ashen appearance. The stench of smoke was everywhere. What had been our dream two days before now became our despair. However, our house was still standing and everyone was unharmed.

As we settled into our smoke laden abode in the next two days we heard the news: The fire had been started by an arsonist who was in custody. They would not release his name in fear that one of the owners of over two hundred houses that were burnt to the ground might kill him, To this day, I don’t know the arsonist’s identity.

Within a day of the fire, they dropped grass seed out of low flying helicopters and within months everything was green on the ground. Only the burnt trees were left as a reminder of what had passed months before.

My wife and I have long since moved from Oak Park but we think often upon that fearful day when our new life almost went up in smoke.

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Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at



From → America, History

  1. Reblogged this on Janet's Thread 2 and commented:
    A heart-stopping tale well told.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on T. W. Dittmer and commented:
    This is an exciting true story, told well by talented author Allen Rizzi.

    Liked by 1 person

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