When Patricia, 74, and Tony, 78, Dykes — along with their daughters, son-in-law and grandkids — went out on the front yard of their Ventura home the evening of Dec. 4, all eyes turned toward Santa Paula. There in the distance a long wall of flames was coming over a hill, like some behemoth on a double-time relentless march. 

“We’ve got to get out! We’ve got to get out!” someone shouted.

The kids ran back into the stucco house high in the foothills east of the city, taking family photos off the walls. A daughter was grabbing clothes out of a closet. Patricia shuffled through filing cabinets pulling out medical information and important papers. 

A granddaughter asked, “Grandma, should I grab these things?” pointing to a collection of Lladro porcelain figurines. 

“No, honey, I don’t think they’ll burn,” she said, believing they’d be back home in a couple of days with a scary wildfire story to tell. Still, she gathered up her small Bible, the book her faith-sharing group was reading on Pope Francis and her Therian (St. Thérèse of Carmel) text.  

But Patricia and Tony didn’t return for more than a week as the Thomas Fire raged through dry hills and canyons choked with chaparral, burning down 500 structures in Ventura alone before widening its path north. 

Disbelief and grief

When they did return, it was on a bus with other evacuees. But, unlike on TV, there was no real suspense.  Seeing 852 High Point Drive X’d out on an online map, they already knew. 

The sturdy stucco house with the concrete tile roof they had just put on two years ago was reduced to charred rubble, including a car in the garage. It was as if a precision bomb had been directly dropped on it, with only part of the chimney left standing and some pieces of muster-colored stucco. A smoky haze still rose in spots, and the pungent burnt-ash smell was only partly dissipated. But, amazingly, next door a neighbor’s ranch-style house remained untouched.

Five weeks later, the Dykes were sitting inside the rectory at Our Lady of The Assumption Church. The couple looked relaxed until they were asked the same thing fellow parishioners had been asking: “So how are you doing?”

Tony glanced sideways at his wife. “A day at a time,” he said, with a tired voice underscoring his words.

“If it’s your will”

“I remember going to bed that night, and I prayed all night. I never went to sleep,” Patricia added. “But I remember saying the rosary on my fingers. And I kept saying, ‘Dear Lord, if it’s your will we will be OK.’ That’s what I kept thinking. And later I thought if it wasn’t for our faith, I don’t think I would be where I am.”

“It’s our faith community as well,” pointed out Tony. “It’s the people here at church who have reached out and really made me humble. They write on a piece of paper ‘This is our phone number. Call us.’ It’s kind of hard to put into words. Ah, I’m gonna tear up.” 

And he did, adding, “The community kind of brings the whole thing together. When you think about it, that’s what it’s all about.”

Full story at Angelus.