Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland woman’s relief as home escapes Californian wildfires

Ex-pat living in California caught up in blaze horror

By Stewart Robson

A Belfast woman caught up in raging wildfires across California has said finding out her home in Malibu has been saved is "the best news".

Geraldine Gilliland, who is originally from Andersonstown, has lived in California since 1975.

Now running a dog sanctuary in the US, Ms Gilliland has spoken of her horror, over 10 years on from losing one of her homes in similar circumstances.

Wildfires have torn through northern and southern California, claiming the lives of 25 people to date.

She fled to Santa Monica to escape the danger, a journey which she says should have only taken half an hour, but took five. Roads were crammed with residents trying to leave.

Bemoaning the lack of an emergency vehicle, Ms Gilliland and her dogs left in her car and are now staying with friends.

Speaking to the BBC in the wake of the blaze, she described the scenes she faced.

"We drove past houses on fire, hillsides on fire," said Ms Gilliland.

"I was afraid of running out of petrol, the dogs were very agitated and the sirens were going crazy.

"My nose started bleeding because of all the smoke and the ash that was dropping."

But speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, she said finding out her house was saved had been a load off her mind.

"It's just such a relief," she said.

"A few of the dogs have been injured after biting each other and I've a few who are older. I'm just glad my babies are safe."

The former St Louise's school teacher had to take cover in a restaurant after fleeing.

Ms Gilliland owns restaurants in the state as well as welcoming tourists to stay.

"I had two French people staying with me and they helped me get the dogs out safely."

Labelling herself as a "recovering Catholic", she added that she really believes the power of prayer is working and urged people to keep sending their love across the Atlantic.

After losing her home over a decade ago, Ms Gilliland said she had feared it could happen once more.

"I just couldn't stomach that again," she said.

"It cost $1m to rebuild my house and only $300,000 was paid by my insurance."

A Beatles ticket from a concert in the early 1960s, her dogs and their medicine are what the businesswoman had at the forefront of her mind - and all three things were thankfully saved.

Her mother, who's 92, still lives in Rostrevor and welcomed Ms Gilliland back home a couple of years ago.

President Donald Trump blamed the wildfires on the "gross mismanagement of forests".

Belfast Telegraph

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