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Trial by fire

California employees put blaze behind them

ca Fires
Employees work outside the Ojai, CA, Post Office as the Thomas Fire looms in the distance.

Patty Albert remembers how the Thomas Fire looked — and how it sounded.

“I never knew fire had a sound, but it does,” said Albert, an Ojai, CA, rural carrier. “It sounded like 20 freight trains coming at you. It was deafening. It was the loudest roar I had ever heard in my life.”

The fire, the largest in modern California history, has been contained for almost a month — but for Albert and other Postal Service employees who experienced it, the memories linger.

The Thomas Fire ignited Dec. 4 and swept across Southern California’s Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. During the next six weeks, the fire burned more than 280,000 acres and triggered another disaster: the Santa Barbara County mudslides.

Through it all, local managers said the safety of employees was their top priority.

Oak View, CA, Postmaster Dan Gallardo said employees were thrilled when restrictions on deliveries were lifted.

“Even though in the beginning we couldn’t go out and deliver mail, my employees came in and cased their mail. They remained ready,” he said.

In the fire’s aftermath, USPS has resumed service in all affected areas.

Eliza Garduno, an Oak View rural carrier, said she and her co-workers were eager to restore normalcy for their customers — and themselves.

“We all just wanted to get back to work,” Garduno said. “When we got clearance to go back to work, I experienced a sense of relief. I just wanted to do my job.”

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