34 - May 2018 Woodall’s Campground Management Q&A CONVERSATIONS Ventura Ranch Still Waits to Clean Up Sites, Buildings Lost in December’s Thomas Fire Editor’s Note:In December theVentura Ranch Kampgrounds of Amer- ica (KOA) Holiday in Santa Paula, Calif., fell victim to the Thomas Fire, losing more than 20 buildings. The Thomas Fire would go on to become California’s largest recorded wildfire,burning 281,893 acres and destroy- ing 1,063 structures, according to CalFIRE. Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM) recently checked in with Scott Cory,the owner of the 148-site campground for the past eight years, to get an update on how recovery efforts are going at the park. Below is our edited conversation. WCM: To start, where are you at now? Have you made any progress rebuilding the park after the devas- tatingThomas Fire? Cory: We had more than 20-plus structures burn down.The fire started almost four months ago and to date we have not been able to clean up the debris. We’re going back and forth with the Federal Emergency Manage- ment Agency (FEMA) and also Cal/OSHA, which is the state’s division of occupational safety and health. We’ve got a ton of debris removal to take care of because of all the structures and there were more than 1,000 structures burnt elsewhere in Ventura County. So, we are waiting for approval from FEMA or Cal/OSHA to clean it up. We are not sure if they’re going to do it yet. That’s my biggest concern. They said they were going to, we filed all the paperwork, but as I said there’s some back and forth on whether they’re going to do it or not. Eventually I may have to make the decision to switch over and hire a private contractor to come and do it if nothing happens. WCM: What will it cost to bring in a private contractor? Cory: All I know is that I have been told that the average cleanup per home in Ventura County has been in excess of $100,000. Most of that cost, officials have told me, is because of hazardous materials. The burn is considered hazardous material and the way it goes into the dump, every- thing gets blanketed, so to speak. That’s where most of the cost is. I’m a little worried. They’re even worried, because they believe the campground will be more expensive due to the amount of structures we have. WCM: I understand KOA has offered to help with the recovery effort.What have they been doing to assist you so far? Cory: KOA has been very supportive in providing support including expert- ise to help me navigate this uncharted area. I have received tremendous sup- port from my fellow franchise owners, including Todd Winegar from King- man KOA Journey in Kingman, Ariz., who offered to bring his tractors out to help clean up, and the Bae Family from Visalia/Sequoia National Park KOA Journey in Visalia, Calif., who sent 10 pounds of Alaskan King Crab to share with theVentura Ranch team. There also are KOA volunteers ready to jump into the cleanup efforts and campers from our local community on standby anxious to help bring back their family campground. WCM: What impact does this have Scott Cory on your 2018 season? Cory: Well, we have 148 total sites. Some of the sites where we have no structures we’ve been able to rebuild already. We have about 25-30 sites up and operating and completely full with long-term guests. That’s helped our financial performance at this point. But we’re still cleaning up.We try to do a little bit every day, cleaning up sites that do not have structures — areas we cannot touch. I’m expecting that if we get clearance in the next 30 days to clean up we will probably have 80% of the campground back up and operating by the first of August. WCM: Did you have procedures or plans in place for a disaster like this? How did you manage evacuating the residents at the park? Cory:We do have an evacuation plan in place. We followed it very well. Every single guest was evacuated with no injury. Unfortunately, we were close to the epicenter of the fire.When one of our work campers saw the fire up on the hill, within 15 minutes it hit the campground. That was because we had 60 mph winds, so it didn’t take much time to come down. Some of the guests told me that when they were leaving that the flames were coming over their RV.The fire department was there, but I don’t think they expected what they found — how bad the fire was and how quickly it was moving. WCM: Obviouslyasabusinessowner you’retryingtokeeptabsonyourbusi- ness after you were evacuated. How easy was it to get information? Cory: For the first 10 days we were not allowed access to the campground because of downed power lines and things like that. But there’s a Naval satellite operation down the street from us and one of the gentlemen I know had clearance to get through; he was able to give us reports about the campground. When I first saw the campground, I was devastated. It was worse than I ex- After losing more than 20 buildings in December’s Thomas Fire, Ventura Ranch KOA is still waiting to clear the rubble left behind. Considered hazardous material, clean up of the cabins destroyed by the Thomas Fire needs approval.