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Articles

How the Thomas Fire compares to the 1985 Wheeler Fire

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Ojai Valley News photo by Andra Belknap
The sun tries to shine through the smoke and ash created by the fire Dec. 5.
Andra Belknap, Ojai Valley News reporter
For many longtime Ojai residents, the Thomas Fire brought back memories of the last major wildfire that threatened the city of Ojai: the Wheeler Fire of 1985.
The Wheeler Fire began July 1, 1985 above Wheeler Hot Springs and is believed to be the work of an arsonist, though no arrests were ever made.
The fire burned 119,000 acres, mostly in the southwestern edge of the Los Padres National Forest. 
More than 3,000 firefighters were assigned to the Wheeler Fire, that was extinguished 18 days after it began.
The fire threatened neighborhoods in the city of Ojai the night of July 3, 1985. Many locals were readying themselves for Independence Day festivities, but plans quickly changed.
Andy Gilman, who now resides on Goldenwest Avenue, lived on Fulton Street in 1985. He recalls passing the night of July 3 on his roof with a garden hose, working to save his home from falling embers.
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Ojai Valley News photo by Tim Dewar
Traffic moves through town under a smoke-filled sky Dec. 5, the morning after the fire began.

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