Wichita native flees the flames in California: “It was a scary situation”

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The wildfires in California have caused thousands of residents to flee their homes to safety, as those fires continue to burn.

A Wichita native who has lived in Santa Rosa for the past five years was right in the middle of it, saying she barely made it out alive.

80-year old Maria Ortega says she was born and raised in Wichita. She says she moved to California back in 2002.

Ortega says she got a wake up call at 4:30 Monday morning that she wasn’t expecting.

“The doorbell is ringing, after the doorbell stops ringing, somebody starts pounding on the door,” said Ortega.

Ortega admits, she ignored it at first, until she started smelling smoke.

“I got out of my bed and went in the dining room and went in the kitchen and looked out my backyard and the vineyard in the back of me was in flames, at least six to eight feet tall they were coming, at least that,” said Ortega.

Ortega says she woke up her son-in-law, who was staying with her and didn’t waste any time in evacuating her home.

“I grabbed my purse and the money I had and then I checked on my pets, and the pets, I couldn’t find them,” said Ortega.

She says she hopped in her car and tried making her way out of her neighborhood.

Ortega says it wasn’t easy.  Her first stop was at a nearby grocery store parking lot.

“Then I see the flames, I see these flames coming up through the trees and everything and I said this is not going to be a good area,” said Ortega.

Ortega  says she eventually made it to safety. After staying with a family friend for a day, she was able to make her way back to Wichita.

Ortega says she arrived here with only her gym back in hand, the clothes on her back, and the mask she was given to wear over her face when she was evacuating the fire.

Back in California, she says her son-in-law has been back in the neighborhood she once called home.

“He is looking through the rubbish and everything and checking to see if he can find the babies, the two cats, the whole neighborhood, it just flattened it,” said Ortega.

While her home and the mementos left behind have been lost in the fire, Ortega remains optimistic, upbeat and thankful.

“You know what, I can’t replace the pictures or anything like that, but the other stuff, you know, it doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t, only thing that matters
is I’m here,” said Ortega.

Ortega admits, if she had stayed in her house 10 minutes longer, she might have not made it out alive.

KSN asked what comes next for Ortega and she said that is a question she’s trying to answer herself.

She says she doesn’t plan to go back to California and rebuild.

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