As a trio of co-workers and friends from Ojai relaxed poolside at The Sands Inn & Suites in San Luis Obispo on Thursday afternoon, the fires raging across Southern California seemed a million miles away. They reflected on the apocalyptic scene they had fled just a few hours south in a surprisingly relaxed — even philosophical — demeanor.
The production house of Elevate, where Aman Segal, Sol Tryon and Rebecca Tryon work, had been lost in the Thomas Fire, one of at least 400 structures destroyed in the Santa Ana-wind-fueled blaze that had devastated 115,000 acres across Ventura County as of Thursday evening.
“Everything that’s being lost is temporal,” Tryon said, to the agreement of others sitting nearby.
“Our footage was the only thing we ended up saving,” Segal added.
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As wildfires ravage Southern California from Ventura to San Diego, the group at The Sands are among dozens of evacuees who have fled to San Luis Obispo to rest and plan to rebuild.
Several accommodations throughout San Luis Obispo County, including more than a dozen hotels in the city of SLO, have provided discounted rates or other special offers to Southern California residents fleeing the fires. The effort was spearheaded by Molly Cano, tourism manager for the City of San Luis Obispo.
“When the fires broke out earlier this week, I reached out to the tourism folks in Ventura,” Cano said, asking how she could help.
She was told residents of Ventura County needed a place to safely evacuate to.
“We put out a call to all of (our hotels) and said, ‘What can you offer?’ ” she said.
Cano said she didn’t have exact numbers for evacuees in the county, but The Sands alone had around 30 rooms booked. That adds up to about 70 to 75 people, hotel general manager Matt Wilkins said.
Wilkins said his hotel offered rooms for $50 a night, the same discounted rate granted to victims of the Santa Rosa and Napa fires in October. He said he’s been working hard to accommodate not just evacuees but all the guests coming into town for holiday parties or Cal Poly’s weekend graduation.
“My house burned down when I was in the seventh grade,” he said. “That was pretty devastating. I know what these people are going through, and it’s pretty rough.”
Wilkins noted that his hotel was the chosen destination for a number of residents from the Ojai Valley.
“Most of them seemed to know each other. It was just like the little community of Ojai in our parking lot,” he said.
Segal and the Tryons were part of a convoy of evacuees, including several children, elderly relatives and pets, to seek sanctuary in San Luis Obispo. Another member of that convoy, Nicholas Ali, said he and his family, plus three dogs, left Ojai before the evacuation order came down; they arrived at The Sands on Wednesday morning.
“They’ve been super accommodating,” Ali said.
The Sands Inn hosted a reception for the evacuees Thursday afternoon, complete with complimentary donated wine and burgers. The peaceful atmosphere provided much-needed respite for the refugees.
“I haven’t slept more than an hour and a half in four days now,” Sol Tryon said.
Rebecca Tryon, his wife, said she was grateful to the firefighters, other first responders and inmates who worked through the night Wednesday to keep the flames at bay. She added that she hopes the fires are seen as a wake-up call for Californians.
“None of us are immune,” she said. “If we don’t want this to become the new reality, we have to do our best to realize global warming is real.”
Despite that risk, the Tryons and Segal agreed they would not abandon Ojai, saying the city meant to much to them.
“You’re going to see a community come together to rebuild,” Segal said.
In the meantime, Segal and the others said they were grateful for San Luis Obispo’s hospitality.
“Thank you to San Luis Obispo and the people in this community for taking us in,” he said.
Hotels lend a hand
The following San Luis Obispo hotels are offering special rates for fire evacuees. Call for details:
Apple Farm, 800-255-2040 or 805-544-2040
Embassy Suites San Luis Obispo, 805-549-0800
Heritage Inn Bed & Breakfast, 805-544-7440
Holiday Inn Express San Luis Obispo/Cal Poly, 805-544-8600
La Cuesta Inn, 805-543-2777
Lamplighter Inn & Suites, 866-756-7378
Lexington Inn, 805-549-9911
Madonna Inn, 805-543-3000
Motel 6 North, 805-549-9595
Quality Suites Hotel Downtown San Luis Obispo, 805-541-5001
Peach Tree Inn, 800-227-6396
Ramada Inn Olive Tree, 805-544-2800
San Luis Creek Lodge, 805-541-1122
Sands Inn & Suites, 800-441-4657
The Butler Hotel, 805-548-1884
The Inn at Morro Bay, 805-772-5651