An Australian moviemaker has been left with $20 in his pocket and the clothes on his back after he lost his home and his filming equipment in devastating fires that have ravaged California.
Neil Johnson, who previously lived on the Gold Coast, was evacuated from the home he shares with his girlfriend, actress Tracey Birdsall, last Friday (local time).
The Woolsey fire, one of three across the state, has burned through almost 100,000 acres and destroyed more than 430 structures – including Neil and Tracey’s home.
The couple initially thought the blaze was too far away to be a risk, but a sudden change in direction put their Malibu home directly in the line of fire.
Arriving back at the property the following day, Neil described the shock at seeing the three-storey home turned to rubble and ash.
“It was like the apocalypse,” he told Yahoo7.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It was horrendous. It’s flat now, there’s only two bits of walls left.”
‘Everything is dust’
As self-professed sci-fi buffs, Neil and Tracey had collected props and memorabilia from film sets around the world, including a giant robot made of steel and two spaceships that were stored in the garage.
“Everything in there is dust now. The heat literally destroyed everything,” Neil said.
“[The house] had a lot of history, a lot of memories. In total, five or six feature films, three music videos and a couple of TV shows have been shot there. It’s got history.
“I had all my cash in a safe because I didn’t trust the banks, and that’s now burned down,” he said, adding they have been left with only the clothes on their backs.
Tracey, who began her career on film and TV after appearing in commercials as a teenager, has lived in her home for 16 years and had experienced wildfires before – but nothing like the one that engulfed her property.
“It was horrifying. You have no idea,” she said.
“When I first moved there my youngest daughter was primary-school age, we had playgrounds in the backyard. I had shot a couple of films there before I met Neil.
“How could a house just be gone? It’s all just dust.”
‘We have no money, no food’
The house was minimally insured and even the couple’s fireproof safe – storing Neil’s savings – was destroyed.
Family and friends of the couple have started a GoFundMe page to help them get back on their feet.
“We literally have no money. No food. We’re eating from the Red Cross, which have been great,” Neil said.
But despite losing everything, Tracey said the tragedy has made them more grateful than ever to be alive and surrounded by loved ones.
“The stuff doesn’t matter so much. It’s nice – but at the end of the day it’s the people in your life not the material things,” she said.
Firefighters have about 50 per cent of the Woolsey blaze under control as 57,000 properties continue to be in danger.
The largest fire in California, the ‘Camp Fire’ – which is north of Sacramento, has killed 56 people and destroyed 10,321 buildings, including many homes.
It has become the deadliest fire in California’s history.