Former U.S. soccer star Eric Wynalda and his wife received alerts on their phones around 12:30 a.m. on Friday morning.
The alerts warned of a voluntary evacuation from their Westlake Village, Calif., neighborhood, as the Woolsey Fire in Ventura County was rapidly moving their way. So his wife and kids loaded up the car with clothes, important documents and jewelry and took off.
Wynalda promised he’d be right behind them, and started packing things into their second car.
Around 3 a.m., Wynalda heard a loud pounding on his door. Two cops were there, screaming at him to get out. A fireball had just landed next to his home.
“The firetrucks weren’t even there yet,” Wynalda told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I went across the street and got an elevated look at the fire and I was like, ‘OK, that’s not good.’ There got to be so much smoke and ash that I couldn’t even see any more, so I left and got on the freeway.”
About an hour later, he received a text from a friend.
“I’m so sorry, bro.”
“I know, this is horrible,” Wynalda responded.
“No, your house is on Channel 9. I’m watching it. Your house is on fire.”
When he reached his in-laws’ home and turned on the TV, Wynalda saw it. Of his entire 162-home development in Westlake Village, only Wynalda’s was on fire.
“Gone,” Wynalda told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Brutal … Watched it burn on live TV.”
The Woolsey Fire started on Thursday afternoon in Ventura County and quickly spread overnight, as Santa Ana winds picked up in the Santa Monica mountains. The fire jumped the 101 Freeway and started working its way to the coast.
Thousands had been placed under mandatory evacuation orders as of Friday afternoon, including the entire city of Malibu, and the fire had grown to nearly 55 square miles.
Wynalda — who played in three World Cups, in Germany’s Bundesliga and the MLS — is currently the head coach of the Las Vegas Lights FC. In his rush to leave his home, though, he wasn’t able to grab any of his soccer memorabilia.
By now, it’s all gone.
While that has to sting — especially for someone with a career like Wynalda’s — he knows there’s more important things to focus on.
And, after the recent mass shooting at a nearby Thousand Oaks bar that killed 12 people, Wynalda knows he’ll be fine. His family’s safety is what’s most important.
“All my memorabilia is gone. I only have memories now,” Wynalda told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I feel terrible, but the reality is a couple nights ago there are people who will never see their sons and daughters again. I think we need to take stock of what’s real.
“You can replace a house, you can just rebuild. But you’re never going to bring those people back. I’ll be fine.”
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