Driving up The Old Road on Friday, one could see pink tags tied around trees in front yards, fire retardant coating cars and ash still floating through the air heavy with the smell of smoke.
But those sights play second fiddle to the people.
Despite the evidence of a long night spent with fire on their doorstep, an entire street located on the 32000 block of The Old Road was outside. People were sweeping up ash, others were helping their neighbors bring patio furniture and children’s toys back to their rightful places in the backyard.
Garden hoses were being rolled back up as they did not belong to the house they had spent hours defending. Ladders, covered in soot, were lifted up over people’s heads as they walked them back to their trucks, and driven another block away.
And neighbors turned to each other, asking if rest or supplies were needed.
In total, six homes were damaged in the Castaic neighborhood, two of them destroyed. But as the residents put it, if it weren’t for the help of their neighbors and the firefighters, those numbers would’ve been a lot higher.
All this was the result of the small Castaic neighborhood all jointly working together through Thursday night and well into Friday morning, fighting off the fire that threatened their friends’ and neighbors’ homes.
“We only had garden hoses, but we had several hoses, and guys showed up and I don’t even know who they were, these random guys showed up to help fight,” said a heavy-eyed, black-ash-covered Jason Duplantis, an Old Road resident whose home barely missed being consumed by the blaze thanks to this neighborly effort. “Neighbors came over and they all just manned the walls and made sure nothing came over the wall.”
“We were all communicating very calmly,” said Old Road resident Zoe Miller. “We didn’t know if we were getting evacuated, but we didn’t end up having to. I saw neighbors who had never spoken to each other, or not in a while, helping each other out, scrambling to get everything in their cars and down the hill.”
Duplantis said two of his neighbors are Los Angeles County Fire Department captains who preferred not to be named. But as Duplantis put it, the two unnamed, off-duty firefighters saved four to five homes through their efforts.
“These two guys right here, whether they want to say anything or not, they saved a bunch of houses,” said Duplantis. “I can’t express how grateful I am that my house was saved. To have these random guys show up, and these two (firefighters) helping … you can’t put a price on that.”
Other neighbors said they spoke to one another for either the first time ever or the first time in a while during the fire. Calm neighbors cared for frantic neighbors, others brought water to those fighting the fires and made calls to people who couldn’t get through the traffic gridlock and back to their homes.
“I work in Beverly Hills, and the I-5 was all jammed,” said Old Road resident Santanu Barua. “But as we were trying to get home, some of our friends in the neighborhood were letting us know what was happening over the phone … they let us know that our home was safe.”
Barua said during the night and through the next morning, he, his wife and a few neighbors spent time on guard, spotting and taking care of small flare-ups, while the others rested or cleaned up the mess the fire had left in and around their homes.
“Everybody was walking around trying to find if anyone needed any help,” said Barua. “The neighborhood felt like it was coming together.”
Duplantis said the effort meant “everything” to his family.
“It means everything,” he said, “it means that people care, and they’re going to do whatever they can.”