Santa Barbara Fires – Mum & kids evacuate their home

The following is an account of a friend of mine evacuating her home in Santa Barbara, California.



After e-mailing you last, it became a rather nerve racking night Thursday night for me. Apparently everyone is supposed to get a phone call with recorded message informing you if you’re in evacuation warning, or whether you need to evacuate. I had the TV on constantly to try and monitor it, but it was rather confusing as to where it exactly was, as it was all over the hills, and the different reporters were at different spots to the area immediately adjacent to us.

Just before the kids went to bed we watched the hill opposite start on fire and it completely spread, then later in the evening I couldn’t see the flames, or even glow, but the smoke in the air was heavy, even smelled it all in the house.

By now the fire was so much lower on the hill towards the neighbourhoods, that’s why I couldn’t see it anymore. Just after e-mailing you about 2.30am I decided I was too tired to stay up any longer, and was just climbing into bed when thought I heard something faint, ran downstairs and looked out the window to see a police car driving off announcing we were to evacuate immediately – Panic!!!

I had not received any phone calls or warnings, and a few minutes later I would have been fast asleep and certainly not have heard them coming around the neighbourhood. Anyway, got the stuff in the car, kids, dog and box of our 4 pet mice, and a roof rack bag full of clothes, and headed off to the animal shelter to see if they’d take in the dog.
They eventually agreed to take her after a bit of a fuss, as they reckoned they were full. Then we went to the University where the Red Cross had set up a skating rink with beds etc. About 4am by now, and tired, but also rather adrenalined up.

The girls were just great the whole time. They said the scariest part was when they were sat in the car waiting for me to finish packing up the car, and then trying to turn the mains gas off, and the police were still coming around announcing to evacuate immediately.

We saw several people we knew at the University, and managed to find a couple of beds, and got an hour of sleep.
I have to say the Red Cross did a great job. Tables with toiletries for you to help yourself to, food, drinks, Internet, phones and TV’s following the fire. Even cooked egg and sausages for breakfast.

It was after breakfast when we were all sitting there, and a lot of people had left, and we were feeling a little lost, bewildered and homeless that the TV people asked us if we minded being filmed. Quite exciting really. Afterwards I wondered if they’d show any of it, as they usually like to capture dramatic sob stories, or people crying, and I wasn’t really offering either, however, several people, even my uncle in New Zealand, said they saw me on TV. So I’ve been hunting the Internet to find it. If I do, and it’s not too embarrassing will send it on to you.

Anyway, after the interview my friend who lived only about half a mile away from us, who wasn’t evacuated, but under warning, kindly invited us to go over and hang out at hers. We did, and they let us stay there that night too, so we didn’t have to go back to UCSB. We got back into our house Saturday, and all was well, lots of charred leaves on the ground everywhere. I think the girls found it all rather an adventure.

The fire is still on, although they hardly show anything about it on TV anymore, as it’s gone further over the top of the hills away from us. We’re still under warning, I suppose should the winds suddenly start up, which they’re predicting later in the week, and it get out of control again, but I don’t think it’ll come to that.

After I picked the girls up from school today, as most of the roads were open again for access, we drove around to get an idea where the fire actually was in relation to us. It was incredible, you just drive up any of the roads that head up the hill and it’s like a moonscape, all plants and trees burnt down to the ground, just little charred sticks where trees used to be.

Burnt leaves

Burnt leaves

Amidst the barren white ashy terrain, there stands houses dotted about here and there, un-burnt (obviously some weren’t so lucky, about 80 in total with this fire, the last fire just a few months ago, even though it didn’t burn so much area, burnt about 200 houses). There were so many fire-fighters sent to help from all over California, they were able to have at least one fire truck stationed at each house to keep spraying them and saving them from burning. Apparently the fire burnt a 5 mile stretch. The brush on the hills was so dried out and old, now it’s burnt away hopefully there won’t be much fuel for another big fire for several years to come.


When we were driving around today we came across Jesusita Lane, where it actually started, they reckon, by someone using some kind of power tool to clear the brush from around the houses. They actually recommend people have a cleared barrier around their properties, so it sounds like an unfortunate accident. They don’t know who it was yet.

Anyway right by here was a large lake, part of a water filtration plant and we watched the helicopters come and fill up before flying off over the back of the hills to douse the fires. They have a long dangling pipe that they dip into the water as they hover and suck up enough water to fill up their tank. Great to watch.

Schools were all back in today, although they made them all have playtime inside, as there’s a lot of loose ash around, even though you can’t see it in the air, it doesn’t take much to stir it up.

Anyway, yesterday I went on-line and registered our home phone number, and both our cell phones to received the emergency alert phone calls, I don’t know why we weren’t on their list already, the phone companies are supposed to supply the police all the numbers. That’s the bit that freaked me out, was what if I never heard their announcements or anything.

Better get off to my nice comfy bed now.

Click here to see an interactive map of the fies in Santa Barbara.

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