News World California fires besiege community still reeling from mass shooting

California fires besiege community still reeling from mass shooting

More than 75,000 homes were evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to fires in the region. Photo: Getty
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Shawn Thornton has seen a lot during his time as senior pastor in Thousand Oaks, California.

But when a horrific massacre that claimed 12 lives on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT) was swiftly followed by a fast-moving bushfire, forcing huge numbers of people to flee their homes, even he felt shaken.

“Boy, we’ve had two sucker punches,” he said.

“It’s almost like our own little 9/11. People are devastated.”

Pastor Shawn Thornton said the Thousand Oaks community was devastated. Photo: ABC News

And it isn’t over yet.

We spoke as church leaders turned a steady stream of cars away from the scheduled morning service.

The area is still under mandatory evacuation, with plumes of grey smoke rising from nearby hills.

As the dry, warm winds get stronger, the local sheriff doesn’t want thousands of people gathering in one place – it’s simply too risky.

“We’re disappointed we can’t pray together. We’re getting ready for funerals here for some of those killed,” Pastor Thornton said.

“We’ve been consistently voted one of the safest places in America. We weren’t ready for this emotionally. We weren’t ready for this as a community.”

A few kilometres away, 12 white crosses stand not far from the site of America’s latest massacre.

Each has a name of a victim murdered by a former US Marine in the Borderline Bar and Grill.

Waterbombing helicopters buzz overhead as people lay flowers, hug one another and briefly pause to pray.

Thousands showed up at city hall for a Vigil honouring the victims of last week’s Thousand Oaks mass shooting. Photo: Getty

“I was friends with some of these people,” Talina Reed said, blinking back tears.

“I came here twice a week – I just feel broken.”

Talina Reed lays flowers for a friend who died in Wednesday’s mass shooting. Photo: ABC News

The Thousand Oaks Teen Centre was the place many relatives rushed to in the early hours of Thursday to find out if their loved ones had survived the shooting.

Now, it’s a temporary shelter for traumatised people who may have lost everything except family photos in the fires.

Sheila Johnson doesn’t know what’s happened to her family home. Photo: ABC News

“I freaked out. We drove through the flames and it was so hot,” evacuated resident Sheila Johnson said.

“I’ll take a hurricane. I’ll take a tornado. I’ll take anything but I won’t do this again.

“We have no idea what happened to the house.”

Amid the adversity, many people are bringing food, water and flowers to their grieving neighbours or the Red Cross assistance centres.

Everyone knows it could be days before things even start to return to normal.

Brandon Apelian spent hours waving this flag. Photo: ABC News

Brandon Apelian spent hours waving a special flag to encourage police and firefighters, who are working around the clock.

“We’ve been going through a whole lot of emotions and feelings,” he said.

“We’re all just here to support each other.”

Through the tears and the stories of survival, that is something almost everyone says is true – the twin tragedies appear to have united the community in grief, loss and shock.

All are now hoping, praying for better days to come.