SANTA PAULA, Calif. - The Ventura Ranch KOA Holiday is an escape to nature for people throughout Ventura County and all over the world.
But on the night of December 4, 2017, chaos erupted as the Thomas Fire sparked evacuations at the campgrounds and across Ventura County.
Owner, Scott Cory says dozens of people on the site were told to evacuate that night.
“Flames were coming over the top of their car and their RV as they were leaving at that time and said it was the most horrific thing they’ve ever been through,” said Cory.
The flames came dangerously close to taking lives, especially for those who call the 76-acre ranch home.
Ramanda is a landscaper on the campgrounds. He watched as the fire inundated what he calls his sanctuary.
“The initial impact when you reach the grounds was heartbreaking,” said Ramanda. “The devastation those first few days was a challenge to be here and live through it.”
Weeks later, the flames died but the reality of the damage sunk in.
“We lost 22 structures, all of our cabins were to ground zero and everything melted,” said Cory. ”Our office was destroyed, our teepees were destroyed, our safari tents were destroyed…it was devastating to come back and see the aftermath.”
The peaceful area was reduced to ash, forcing a 9-month long closure.
Now, after months of recovery efforts, 80 percent of the campsite is back open to the public.
“It’s actually wonderful to be here again,” said Ramanda “Each day get better and better.
Remnants of the fire still stain the campground, which is a reminder that revival is a long journey.”
“We are saving some of the burn areas as reminders of what took place so we never forget,” said Cory. “The best part is, when we see it, we see the growth and the rebuild and the direction we are going and that’s so empowering.”
Cory says the ranch will be fully rebuilt in the next few months.