John Camilli, resident manager of the Hawaiian Village apartments in Ventura, said most people only got out with the shirts on their backs after the Thomas fire erupted.
He stood at the top of the driveway of the apartments and watched as crews Wednesday afternoon doused water on a hotspot. This was the second time since the fire they had come to the site, Camilli said.
Like the 150 people who lived in the 53 units, Camilli said he’s now homeless and living in his car.
“They thought they were coming back so they didn’t take much,” he said.
Residents first began smelling smoke Monday around 9 p.m. and some decided to pack up and evacuate. Then between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. the air conditions were getting bad and more and more people left.
“All the last hold-outs started cuing up their cars and waiting till the last second because no one wanted to believe it was coming this way,” Camilli said.
At about 11 p.m. they got an emergency notification on their cell phones to evacuate.
It’s also when Camilli said he could see 20-foot to 30-foot flames coming over the hillside.
“Every time the Santa Anna winds would throw a gust at us, it would start raining embers down on the property,” he said.
Camilli said the glowing embers were the size of golf balls.
He acknowledged he grabbed a garden hose thinking he could stave off the flames from the apartments with picturesque views
“The first time I got pelted with all of these live embers I knew I had to get out of there,” he said.
At the same time the dark smoke from the fire was choking out the area, he said.
“I’m not going to be a hero here, I’m gonna get the hell out of here,” he recounted.
The scene was frenetic, cars were idle and doors were open, ready to go. Despite that, Camilli said no one left without checking on their neighborhoods above and next door.
He walked down the hill and walked in between homes and saw flames come down on the southwest corner of the building, which had caught fire.
“It was a lost cause and it would have taken a lot of water,” he said.
There were at least five cars in the carport that had burned and little remained of the three-story and two-story buildings. Many of the palms…