Evacuees share their experience during the Tick Fire

Canyon Country evacuee Merlyn Reeves and her dog Dixie check the evacuation area map on display at College of the Canyon evacuation Center in Valencia on Friday, October 25, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Amid large and dark plumes of smoke from the raging Tick Fire, yellow jackets and water hoses disappear as they race toward the flames and out emerge thousands of residents fleeing the opposite way toward safety. 

It’s more than 40,000 people and their pets residing in the eastern Santa Clarita Valley who were faced Thursday afternoon and early Friday morning with only minutes to pack what they could and head west. 

Several hundred made their way to evacuation centers in Valencia at College of the Canyons and West Ranch High School, where they were greeted by the Red Cross with food, first aid and cots. 

Wind buffets the canopy as a woman sets up a tent in the College of The Canyons parking lot in Valencia on Friday, October 25, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Among the 400 residents who stayed at the college overnight was 19-year-old Will Diaz and his dog Brady. The experience was “scary and frightening” but not a new one. 

“This is the third time that I got evacuated,” he said. “We got evacuated (Thursday) about 8:30-9 p.m. and it was about getting all the things you need in a small amount of time, but it’s a scary and frightening thing because you feel like you’re getting rushed and have to decide like in a matter of 10 minutes what’s important and what’s not important to take in this situation.” 

It’s a bittersweet experience, he added. Though a nerve-wracking feeling to not know the condition of one’s home during a fire, he knows that “you’re not the only one on that boat” and that it’s about lending a helping hand.

Evacuees sit on cots at College of the Canyon evacuation Center in Valencia on Friday, October 25, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

That’s what he did. He shared some words of comfort to another Canyon Country evacuee whom he met at COC, 12-year-old Ricardo Velardo. 

Velardo, who was at a local school when he heard about the Tick Fire, said he didn’t realize the severity of the situation until his ride home on the bus as he saw “the giant cloud of smoke getting bigger and bigger and once I get home the giant cloud of smoke looks like it’s going above our apartments.” He was glad to have escaped the fiery scene and receive “good stuff” like food and company at the evacuation center, he said. 

For some, running from the fire was not their only worry. Sand Canyon resident Linda Hanlon, who has also evacuated in the past, said traffic congestion only worsened in the area as Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s deputies searched for an alleged gunman who shot at deputies inside fire lines Thursday night. 

Resident Matthew Cather uses a water hose in an attempt to save his and surrounding homes from the flames of the Tick Fire. Courtesy of Kathy Cather

On Poppy Meadow in Canyon Country, resident Kathy Cather called her son Matthew and surrounding neighbors “fire heroes” as they organized an effort to stop the flames from reaching their homes with water hoses. 

“My son and neighbors were successful in suppressing the fire while firefighters arrived,” she said. “It took firefighters about three hours to arrive because the sheriff’s (deputies) told us they were working other fires. Only one home was lost but I think their efforts really helped.” 

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