Good Samaritans With Water Trucks Get Praise for Saving Ventura Block From Thomas Fire

It was an uplifting moment in that horrific first day of the Thomas Fire, when it raced down from the mountains and into the city of Ventura, destroying more than 500 homes.

Downwind from the main fire, on one block where hot embers were igniting yards and fences even as water pressure was plummeting, a family-owned local business came to the rescue with two of its water trucks, loaded to the brim with four thousand gallons.

"It's absolutely amazing," recalled Teloma Drive resident Doug Singletary. "These people are heroes."

His neighbor Charlie Carlson is convinced his home would have been consumed if not for the crew from Gallion Erosion Control:  owner John Gallion, his grown sons Chad and Trevor, and their longtime employee Chris de la Cruz.

Carlson, 83, had evacuated and was 35 miles away, watching the live fire coverage on television, when he caught a glimpse of his house, flames around it, and a water truck parked in his driveway that was empty when he left.

"Like a gift from God," Carlson described it.

For him, the wildfire had come at an especially difficult time.  Only three weeks earlier, he had lost his wife Sherrie to illness. In retirement, she had become an avid painter.  Friends and family had gathered for a memorial in their backyard oasis that the Thomas Fire was beginning to burn.  Inside the house were stored his most cherished possession - her paintings.

A block over on Heidelberg Avenue, five houses had caught fire and ultimately would burn to the ground. But there was still room for hope on Teloma for the homes of Carlson and his neighbors. With the Gallions running their own houses, and then providing water to arriving firefighters, Carlson's house was scorched, but survived without interior damage, as did his neighbor's house to the south. Burn damage was more severe in the house to the north, but did not bring it down. The rest of the 300 block of Teloma escaped virtually unscathed.

Sherrie's paintings were untouched in the unforgiving blaze.

"The Gallions," Carlson believes, "must certainly be among the most heroic and deserving people ever."

He had not previously met the Gallions, and did not know their home is a block south of his, and as it turned out, below the reach of the Thomas Fire.

As the fire approached, John Gallion had dispatched son Chad to Oxnard to get water trucks. They had no experience fire-fighting, but wanted to do what they could to help, entering a fire zone hot enough that some of the logos on the trucks began to melt, Chad Gallion recalled.

"Our neighbors are good people," 19-year-old Chad Gallion said. "We're glad we could help out."

John Gallion said it was a community effort.

At the same time, the joy of saving homes on Teloma is tempered by sadness for the hundreds in Ventura whose homes could not be saved. The city's recovery will require an enormous amount of work.

The presence of so much charred fire wreckage and ash has raised concerns for airborne pollution every time the wind stirs, and so the city has contracted with a local company to spray the burned sites with a protective layer of hydromulch.

Another challenge unimaginable before the devestating Thomas Fire has been taken on by Gallion Erosion Control.

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