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Bill Macfadyen: Amid Wildfires and Atrocity, Ventura County Has Our Attention

What else is news in NoozWeek’s Top 5? A Vandenberg Air Force Base missile test provides a model display, a Santa Barbara man takes a three-story fall, a Lompoc girl is hit by a car, and one woman gets a bad brake

Wildfire Click to view larger
Uh, oh. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

Our prayers are with Ventura County, which had an absolutely awful day on Nov. 8, and has little prospect for peace at least through the weekend.

The day started with the massacre of 12 innocent people at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks. The popular country music dance hall was hosting its weekly College Country Night when a Newbury Park man walked in just before midnight and began shooting.

Among those killed was Ventura County sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus, one of the first law-enforcement officers on the scene. Witnesses say he rushed inside and exchanged fire with the gunman, before dying in a hail of bullets. His was a stand-up act of valor that, no doubt, saved countless lives.

The 28-year-old suspect apparently committed suicide after the bloody, deadly mayhem of his own making. As is too often the case, he was described — and well-known — as “troubled.” While guns will be getting the white-hot attention — in a state with some of the most restrictive firearms laws anywhere — it is long past time to focus on mental health. Because, let me tell you, this country is losing that war.

Hours later, and five miles away from the Borderline, a wildfire erupted near Camarillo and quickly raged across Highway 101 as powerful santa ana winds propelled it toward the coast.

An hour after that, a second wind-whipped wildfire roared to life near Simi Valley. By midnight, it was closing in on the already reeling Thousand Oaks.

Unlike the last big wildfire to terrorize Ventura County, the one we remember all too well, this one poses little threat to Santa Barbara County. That didn’t stop it from shooting to the top of Noozhawk’s Top 5 most-read stories of the past week.

According to our Google Analytics, we had an audience of 149,135 readers over the last seven days, with more than 30,000 of you on Nov. 8 alone.

What follows is my own take on your Top 5 stories. And by “my own take” I mean my opinion, as in my opinion column.

1. Wind-Driven Wildfire Prompts Highway 101 Closure, Evacuations in Camarillo Area

A wind-driven Ventura County wildfire forced the closure of Highway 101 east of Camarillo on Nov. 8, turning day to night as monstrous flames swept across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the Pacific Ocean.

The so-called Hill Fire was burning in the same area that was scorched in the Springs Fire five years before.

The fire was reported in dry, heavy brush in Hill Canyon in Camarillo’s Santa Rosa Valley at 2 p.m. Within about 12 minutes, it had raced up the mountainside and jumped the freeway near the top of the Conejo Grade.

Southbound Highway 101 was closed between Pleasant Valley Road in Camarillo and Wendy Drive in Newbury Park, while northbound lanes were blocked between Highway 23 in Thousand Oaks and Pleasant Valley Road. Authorities had no estimate on when the highway would reopen.

Late on Nov. 8, Ventura County Fire Department officials estimated the blaze had burned 5,000 to 7,000 acres. Earlier reports estimated the size at 8,000 to 10,000 acres.

Flames were being pushed by santa ana winds of 25 to 30 mph, and authorities said 3,500 to 5,000 structures were threatened by the fire.

In cascading order, mandatory evacuations were ordered for the Dos Vientos neighborhood and Vallecito Mobile Home Park in Newbury Park, Camarillo Springs and CSU Channel Islands in Camarillo, and Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu south to Sycamore Canyon in Malibu.

A Santa Barbara County Fire Department strike team was helping to battle the fire, along with crews from the Carpinteria-Summerland and Montecito fire departments.

The cause of the blaze has not been determined.

As if there hadn’t been enough disaster for one day, a second wildfire ignited around 3 p.m. near Simi Valley. Dubbed the Woolsey Fire, it, too, was propelled by santa anas as it marched steadily toward Thousand Oaks.

By early Nov. 9, a mandatory evacuation had been declared for much of Thousand Oaks, with more than 30,000 people ordered out of their homes.

2. Officials Say Minuteman III Missile Test Launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base Hit Target

Missile launch Click to view larger
Test pattern. (Mike Troy photo)

An unarmed Minuteman III missile blasted out of an underground silo from Vandenberg Air Force Base the night of Nov. 6 in an apparently successful test launch.

The missile, which launched at 11:01 p.m. from North Base, was expected to travel to a predetermined target, typically near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Central Pacific Ocean.

Air Force Global Strike Command officials told our Janene Scully that the test met expectations.

“Though the re-entry vehicle reached its intended target, the test and analysis data is not releasable to the public,” Global Strike Command spokesman Joe Thomas said.

VAFB — and local rocket watchers — should see two more launches in November.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a payload of small satellites is expected to blast off later this month from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base.

A week after Thanksgiving, a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with a top-secret payload is set to go from Space Launch Complex-6.

3. Santa Barbara Man’s Fall, Spinal Injury Spark Outpouring of Community Support

Wyatt Dennett Click to view larger
Wyatt Dennett of Santa Barbara could use our help, and prayers. (Dennett family photo via GoFundMe)

A 20-year-old Santa Barbara man suffered a severe spinal injury Oct. 26 when he fell three stories from a balcony during a Montecito house party.

Wyatt Dennett underwent emergency surgery at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, and remains in stable condition in the intensive care unit.

“It was a major accident at a little house party in Montecito and, unfortunately, Wyatt had to be the one to teach us a valuable lesson that life is precious,” Dennett’s 22-year-old brother, Luke, told our Brooke Holland.

“It was dark. He fell from the top balcony ... and landed on his neck.”

He said his brother fractured his C4 and C5 vertebrae and bruised his spinal cord. A respirator was required to assist his breathing.

“Technically, right now he is quadriplegic,” Luke Dennett said.

Friends have rallied to assist with Dennett’s mounting medical expenses. Connie Milano, owner of Gino’s Pizza at 12 W. Figueroa St., hosted a fundraiser at her shop.

Carter Soto set up a GoFundMe campaign that, as of Nov. 9, had raised more than $33,000 toward its $45,000 goal.

Earlier this week, Soto reported that Dennett had been making steady progress.

“After being taken off the respirator he is now able to communicate,” he said. “Wyatt says he can feel his chest and parts of his arm, but nothing below that.”

Click here to make an online donation.

4. Child Critically Injured When Struck by Vehicle in Lompoc

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Headed to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. (Lompoc Fire Department photo)

Details are scant but a young girl was critically injured Nov. 4 when she was struck by a vehicle near Lompoc High School.

According to Lompoc fire Battalion Chief Brian Federmann, emergency personnel responded to the collision just before 4 p.m. in the 500 block of West College Avenue.

He said the child suffered serious injuries and she was flown by a Calstar medical helicopter to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

The girl’s identity and age were not disclosed, and Lompoc police are investigating the incident.

5. 2 People Injured in Vehicle Mishap at Santa Barbara Parking Garage

Crash Click to view larger
Occupied. (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo)

We’ve all done it at those parking kiosks, whose buttons, ticket dispensers or ticket readers are — inevitably — just out of reach.

Of course, the correct thing to do is to put the vehicle in park before fumbling about, but it’s a parking lot for crying out loud. I’m just going to lean a little further this one time. What’s the worst that can happen?

According to Santa Barbara fire Battalion Chief Mike de Ponce, one motorist found that out the afternoon of Nov. 6. It wasn’t the worst outcome, but two people were injured nonetheless.

De Ponce said a woman was driving her car out of the Paseo Nuevo parking garage in the 700 block of Chapala Street when she came to the ticket kiosk, which was — inevitably — just out of reach.

Without putting her car in park, he said, she opened her door, while trying to keep her foot on the brake.

Of course, if she had been successful, you wouldn’t be reading this.

De Ponce said the woman’s foot apparently slipped off the brake, whereupon she mistakenly hit the gas pedal. He said the sedan lunged across usually bustling Chapala Street, clipped another car and then hurtled through the commercial complex on the other side, finally crashing into a restroom doorway. I just hope no one was sitting down on the other side of the door.

The two drivers suffered minor to moderate injuries, and de Ponce said both were taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for treatment.

Amazingly, no one was hurt at the complex, which is home to the Breakfast Culture Club and Kanaloa Seafood Market. The restroom wall was damaged, however, making it a real one-holer for the time being.

Santa Barbara police are investigating the crash, and the woman’s identity was not released.

                                                                 •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Santa Ynez Valley High School Principal Arrested on DUI Charges.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

This story is heartbreaking, but those of us who share the Christian faith of Bailee and Will Byler know that the ending is just the beginning: ‘Fairy-Tale’ Wedding Ends in South Texas Helicopter Crash That Killed Newlyweds.

                                                                 •        •        •

Best of Bill’s Instagram

My Instagram feed was all over the place this past week. My favorite, of course, is @picolosalamos.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

I think we could all use an alpaca snuggle right about now.

(@hotcupofjodie video via Instagram)

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk and Instagram: @bill.macfadyen, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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