Sunday 22 September 2019

'I saw the flames, and then we ran' - Fair City actor on fleeing devastating California wildfire

Victor Burke
Victor Burke
Sorcha O'Connor

Sorcha O'Connor

Fair City actor Victor Burke has told of the devastating effects of a wildfire in Malibu, California where he has lived for three years with his wife and two children.

The actor flies over and back from the States every month to film for the RTÉ soap, as well as keeping up with other commitments he has in Ireland.

He said the affected area looks like a ‘nuclear bomb’ exploded.  

Speaking to Ray D’Arcy on RTÉ Radio One, Victor explained the terrifying ordeal of fleeing his home with his family and their dog in a truck hired for a planned family-trip to Utah last weekend.

He said he just managed to grab photos and ‘a few bits and bobs’ from the house before hitting the road, and was now staying in a hotel with the family.

Victor explained the flames were burning on one side of the Pacific Coast Highway near his home, while the coast was on the other side of him as he drove his family to safety.

“There were burning embers going passed, it got really bad,” he said.  

Initially, Victor tried to remain calm when friends banged on his door at 5.30am on Friday morning to tell them a compulsory evacuation was taking place.

“I thought they were all exaggerating till I saw the flames coming over the mountain – and then we ran. It was pretty extreme. The flames were huge, the mountains are pretty high and the flames were way above the mountain so we ran and we got onto the PCH, the road that runs along the coast,” he said.

"Everyone was heading south to the Santa Monica area but there was a traffic jam so we headed north.”

Returning to the area with a friend two days ago, Victor was horrified by the sight of scorched community he now calls home. He said it was lucky more people didn’t lose their lives.

The fire is now the deadliest in the history of California with the death toll now at 44.        

“It’s like a nuclear bomb went off – it's incredible,” he told Ray.

“I don’t know how there is anything left, there is a few houses still left.

“I got back in with a friend of mine going in to rescue animals,” he added. 

“There was half a dozen roads blocks with the police. I have so many friends that everything is gone. My daughter said for sure half her class had lost their homes."

Victor also drove passed the burnt frame of his own house, unable to stop due to the heavy police presence.

“My friend showed me a photo of it. A helicopter was dropping water on it, it was pretty extreme.

“There is a structure there - part of a structure - the back is all burnt."

"I’m amazed there weren’t more fatalities. I drove past the high school and there is nothing up there, there are no houses.”

Victor said he and his wife will need to figure out a plan of action as to where they will live before he arrives back in Ireland in a few weeks’ time.

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