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'60 Years, Gone:' As Woolsey Fire Survivors Struggle To Rebuild One Year Later, A Treatment Center Offers Hope

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — It was one of the most destructive wildfires in California's history: the Woolsey Fire.

This week marks one year since the blaze scorched nearly 100,000 acres, leaving devastation in its wake.

In Oak Park, lots remain vacant, while other homeowners are still rebuilding. In Agoura Hills, a mobile home community is wiped out; and hundreds of people wait for the green light to go home.

It was November 8, 2018 when the Woolsey Fire lit up during a Santa Ana wind event. The fast-moving fire tore through the Santa Monica mountains, destroying everything in its path.

The memory stirs the emotions of Bonnie Decker. She knows Decker Canyon better than most; in fact, her family is one of the original homesteaders in Malibu.

"This is the only thing that didn't burn was my pipe corrals," she said. "Every day I have to come up here and take care of my horses so it's just gotten into a new routine. You know, my life has changed."

She's survived many fires in her life but nothing as destructive as the Woolsey Fire.

"Everything is gone.  Sixty years of my life — gone. It was hard to take," she said.

The fire reached Malibu on November 9th.

"You can feel the temperature going up and up and up as I was standing on the roof with the hose. And you just don't know how high it's going to get," Charlie Steighler remembered.

Then all of a sudden, the storm passed.

Bonnie lost her own home but she fought to save her 98-year-old mother's property — and won.

"As it was coming as a big wave. I saw the hands of God shove it down the canyon. That's why you can see all the burned brush on the other and none of the trees have burned in the area," she said.

The Decker property was saved. Bonnie's home on the top of the hill was gone.

"All my art work, family pictures. I was putting together a coffee table book, so I had all my family pictures there," she said. "They are all gone now."

It's the loss of her mother that hit the hardest. Millie Decker was evacuated right before the fire hit and when she came back home, Bonnie says she was not the same. She died more than a month after the fire.

"This is a picture of my mom," she said, gesturing. "She was called the last of the Malibu hillbillies."

"I've been taking care of mom for the last four-and-a-half years and to have this happen it was … to be a total caregiver and gone the next – it was hard to deal with – not having anyone to take care of," she said.

The Woolsey Fire tore through the hillsides. More than 1,600 structures were destroyed; more than 200 of them were homes just like Bonnie's.

One year later, families like hers continue to struggle.

Morgan Blackledge is the program director for the Beach House Treatment Center. Since the fire, he's lead several free workshops for survivors – many of them still in the recovery process.

"One trauma can trigger even seemingly unrelated traumas its just the basic feeling of lacking safety," he explained. "A lot of the folks who showed up were real isolated and maybe need to see who else was in their same position and reach out and talk to folks."

The workshops focus on meditation and building community. And it's all with one goal in mind: healing.

"We want to find out what people are going through and lend our knowledge and our experience or hope to whoever might need it or want it," Morgan said.

As for Bonnie, taking care of her animals is her therapy.

"Woolsey is the ram. I named him after the Woolsey Fire," she said.

The animals keep her busy – and so does rebuilding her home. Even though it's bound to be a long process, she's determined to make new memories in Decker Canyon.

"No, I'm not going to leave here," she said. "This is my home. I was raised here, went to school here, worked here — and I've retired here."

Healing workshops for the Woolsey Fire victims are held every Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. For more information visit the website here.

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