‘It Was Absolute Pure Hell’: How Dav Boots Co-Founder Escaped California’s Disastrous Wildfire

Massive wildfires have been raging across Southern California since Monday, with large parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties now engulfed in flames. By Wednesday, more than 65,000 acres of land have been scorched across the area while at least 1,700 firefighters are at work trying to contain the smoke, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.

The flames have so far destroyed at least 150 homes and threatened thousands of others, prompting the police to shut down a large section of the busy 405 freeway, which runs across the southern and western parts of Greater Los Angeles.

But even as firefighters execute mass evacuations throughout the affected fire zones, more winds from Santa Ana threaten to exacerbate matters tonight.

Dav footwear’s co-founder Kerri Sengstaken shared with Footwear News today how the devastation affected her 5-acre property and the all-weather boot company’s design studios; both are in the upper Ojai Valley area — located 70 miles north of Los Angeles. Fire department officials have described the region as a high priority area because of the “tremendous volume of fire,” Los Angeles Times reports.

“When the fire started, there was a rapid firestorm all around our home and design studio, and we have livestock — horses, chickens and goats on our property. So what happened was immediate, and I had to evacuate my family and livestock,” Sengstaken said. She and her 17-year-old daughter were enjoying dinner and watching “The Crown.”

“I get a phone call from my neighbors. I walked outside and looked out and everything around me was on fire. It happened that fast, Sengstaken explained. “We went from having a normal dinner to: ‘Oh my god, we have to get out of here right now.”  She added that it was “pitch black” outside, difficult to see, and the smoke was stifling.  “It was absolute pure hell.” 

Sengstaken’s husband Dave, also a co-founder of the brand, was away on business in Germany meeting with e-tailer Zalando. He returns this evening, she said.

No stranger to wildfires that frequently affect the Southern California region, Sengstaken was already prepared for the unexpected.

“I had important things in one spot; external hard drives for business ready,” she said. “In our design office, I’m sure there’s all kinds of smoke damage because the fire is surrounding it. I have no idea of what we’re going back to: All I know is that a few [area residents] stayed and they say the property is in tact, but we don’t know about the inside — it could be full of smoke.”

Kerri Sengstaken, dav boots
From left: Eve, Dave and Kerri Sengstaken with Hercules the horse

However, relocating her livestock added some challenges.

“Our property was surrounded by fire and I was loading horses into a trailer with flames literally all around me,” she said.

During the confusion, her horses were “freaking out” and she was injured after slamming her head against a trailer wall when the animal reacted. “I’m going to get checked out today by the doctor for a concussion. Ever since that happened I’ve had bad headaches.”

The riding world inspires the brand’s design and lifestyle narrative.

Compounding matters, Sengstaken’s truck battery failed, however a Good Samaritan came to the rescue. “Luckily our veterinarian neighbor stopped by and got me out of there; Had he not, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten out of the flames. I was surrounded on three sides by wildfire. [Firefighters] were screaming for us to get out or we would be engulfed.”

Sengstaken, along with her daughter, and goat Jacob, evacuated to her beach house in Oxnard, located 25 miles south of Dav’s design studio and residence. Staff members have had to relocate as the blaze continues; fires are not expected to abate until Friday.

Still, it’s business as usual for the brand.

“I think we’re going to have a small delay in that people who process my orders are displaced right now,” Sengstaken explained. “I think for the next two or three days we’re going to be playing catch up. Nordstrom Drop Ship has a very short window on how things get processed. This comes at a difficult time right now for Christmas shipping.”

Sengastaken said authorities have not communicated when she can return to her property.

Last year the company shifted to a remote business model for administrative, customer service, design and accounting employees. Warehouses are located in Oxnard and Canada.

The strategy has made reorganizing easier during the blaze.

“It’s more flexible, they are happy and it has brought positivity in our company,” she explained. “We have a space for meetings when we want to, but otherwise the staff works remotely.”

The brand planned a friends and family sale for Thursday and Friday, but it has been rescheduled for next week.

Kerri Sengstaken, jacob goat, oxnard beach
Kerri Sengstaken and her goat Jacob in Oxnard, Calif.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Kerri Sengstaken

“We’re under difficult circumstances, but we’re asking for people to be patient,” she added. “It was the scariest thing I’ve every experienced. I’m just grateful that everyone in my family and my team are all safe — and that’s the most important thing.”

While many of the affected areas have been residential, authorities said that even if a particular shopping spot is not under direct evacuation, it is still unsafe due to high levels of smoke in the affected regions.

“I haven’t seen a lot of mercantile areas that have been evacuated, however the impact of it has to be severe,” Jason Hodge, a Ventura County firefighter and public information officer, told Footwear News. “A lot of the area is completely covered in smoke so even if they haven’t been officially evacuated it’s still not a place where people should be,” Hodge explained.

According to the National Weather Service, isolated gusts up to 90-mph are expected tonight.

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