Tea Fire

The Tea Fire has indelibly left its mark on our community: 80 Montecito homes, 130 Santa Barbara homes, 25 injuries, 1,940 acres scorched, and over $5-million in fire-fighting costs:. As the smoke clears, stories of survival and loss emerge, and many people are left wondering what’s next. A task force consisting of investigators from the U..S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, SB County Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and SB Sheriff’s Department has determined that the fire was caused by ten young adults who had lit a bonfire in the early morning hours of Thursday, November 13. After believing they had extinguished the fire, they left the Tea House area, but the fire continued to smolder until strong winds reignited it later that evening. “At this time the cause of the fire does not appear to be malicious nor does there appear to be any specific intent to have started it; the investigation is continuing,” said Sheriff Bill Brown at a press conference held on November 17.

With Montecito Fire Protection District acting as the lead agency, more than two dozen departments from across California were called in to help. Firefighters from Lake Tahoe, Sacramento, Orange County, Los Angeles, Ventura, Carpinteria and other areas, along with Santa Barbara County and City fire departments, made up the nearly 1,300 firefighters and personnel on the scene. “Within minutes, there were a huge number of units responding,” said Mike Habich, an engineer with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. Also on hand were employees with CHP, SB County Sheriff, Forest Service and CAL FIRE, among others.

Westmont Fire Protection Plan Activated

The fire moved rapidly, and Westmont College was one of the first areas hit. Scott Craig, Manager of Media Relations at Westmont tells us that students and faculty are attempting to regain normalcy this week after losing eight structures and fourteen faculty homes adjacent to the campus; classes are scheduled to resume December 1. Three of the 17 buildings that make up Clark Halls (F, M and S), Bauder Hall, the physics building, the old math building and two Quonset huts were lost in the blaze. The latter three buildings were scheduled for demolition in the coming weeks to make way for new facilities on campus as part of Phase I of the college’s Master Plan.

When the fire began, students and staff were evacuated to the gym as part of a crisis response plan developed years ago in consultation with fire officials who recommended that students stay on campus in a protected building rather than flee in cars and be exposed to the dangers of a quickly burning fire. Although the flames came close to the gym, students remained safe inside, and Craig says the plan worked as expected. The morning after the fire began, students were taken off campus to local churches as well as homes in the community whose owners have generously opened their doors to both students and faculty.

Response For Help Swift & Positive

Craig told us that upon posting on the school’s website a need for temporary housing for students displaced by the fire, over 400 spare rooms or guest houses were offered by residents wanting to help; this within a 24-hour period! “We’re so grateful for the many offers of assistance that have poured in since the fire began,” Westmont President Gayle Beebe said. “It’s so encouraging to receive that kind of support from the community.” All students have been placed in temporary housing until they can return to campus, but about 35 have lost their rooms due to the fire. The college is working on making provisions for them and hopes to keep them on campus, Craig said.

Hoffmans Burned; Lose East Mountain Home

Although no direct fatalities have been reported, 22 people have been treated for smoke inhalation incidents and 3 people were burned in the fire. Lance and Carla Hoffman, two residents in the 200 block of East Mountain Drive located in the Upper Hyde Tract area, were severely burned as they attempted to evacuate their home; both victims were airlifted to a Regional Burn Center where they remain in critical but stable condition. Although they are both expected to recover, a spokesman for the couple said they will remain hospitalized for a while. A fund has been established for donations at Santa Barbara Bank and Trust, located at 1483 East Valley Road in Montecito. Donations should be directed to the Lance and Carla Burn Fund. The Hoffman home was lost was in the blaze.

Making Planning Process Easier

As residents prepare to rebuild, the reality of navigating through the County P&D process can be daunting. At a Board of Supervisors hearing held on Tuesday November 18, First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal laid out specific plans designed to ease the burden. “Together [with the Montecito Association] we’re going to be able to embark on a recovery process that will allow us to facilitate and streamline our processes and efforts at the county so that everybody can move forward in rebuilding and recovering their lives and getting their lives back to order,” he said.

Director of the Office of Long Range Planning for the county, John McGinnis, who has been appointed to coordinate county efforts, reported that 87 properties are involved in the loss of 210 homes. Aerial photography, permit information and property history are being collected. McGinnis said local architects are also helping to gather information on lost structures. Five case managers have been assigned to the properties so that homeowners will have a “go-to” person to contact when navigating through the system. “We want to make it as easy as possible for them,” McGinnis said.

Fire Assistance Available

A local assistance center has been established at the Davis Center at 1232 De La Vina Street in Santa Barbara. Open 9am – 5pm through this Friday, representatives with the County, Building and Safety, Public Works, Santa Barbara City, American Red Cross, Southern California Edison, MarBorg and the Housing Authority will be on hand to answer questions. In addition, local architects and insurance company staff will be present at the center. The Board approved County Executive Officer Michael Brown to hire or designate an ombudsman to play a “checks and balance” role between residents and county bureaucracy. “This will facilitate our efforts much better for the public,” Carbajal said. Also at the hearing, Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom Franklin and Sheriff Brown debriefed the Board on the multi-agency cooperation that took place in response to the fire.

The Montecito Association has stepped up to help people get the answers they need, according to President Bill Palladini. He explained that the MA will post links to various resources on their website and be available to answer questions on how to navigate the county processes. A forum for the community to be able to express their experiences and concerns regarding the Tea Fire will be scheduled sometime in mid-December. The following is a letter from the MA President:

From the Montecito Association

The Board of Directors and staff of the Montecito Association would like to express our sorrow and concern for all who suffered losses in the tragic Tea Fire. Our entire community is feeling the effects as many friends, neighbors and associates deal with damaged or lost homes. Yet, we should all be impressed and proud of the response from our community in helping those in need.

In the aftermath, the Montecito Association is taking immediate steps to support our community. First, we are updating our website, www.montecitoassociation.org, to provide links to important resources and information to assist those in need of basics like clothing, shelter and financial support. We have also included links to disaster preparedness measures for future emergencies. We were all reminded last week that there is more we must do to be ready in the event of the need to evacuate our homes or survive an earthquake!

Recovery and rebuilding will be a challenging and complex process. We have already begun to work closely with County staff and agencies to ensure that all resources are publicized and made easily accessible to those in need. For those of you who suffered damage to or the loss of your home, we offer our staff resources to help you navigate the road to rebuilding your home. Please call our office at 969-2026 or email execdirector@montecitoassociation.org with your current contact information and let us know how we can help. Also, please also stop by our office at 1469 East Valley Road and pick up a free copy of our “Guide to Rebuilding and Remodeling” which not only describes the County permitting process but also contains important reference and contact information

The Montecito Association is also planning to host a community forum in mid-December. We will be inviting members of the community to gather and discuss lessons learned from the Tea Fire and to focus on how we can all be more prepared the next time disaster strikes. Please watch for future announcements.

We are here and want to help. Please don’t hesitate to call us with your questions or concerns at 969-2026.

Bill Palladini

President

Fire Stories from Cold Spring School

In the aftermath of the Tea Fire, teachers throughout Montecito and Santa Barbara were left with the task of getting their students’ routines back to normal. On Monday November 17, when schools reopened and students filed in, many had stories of fleeing their homes with their parents, siblings and pets. Mrs. Alix Seeple, a teacher at Cold Spring School, encouraged her second graders to spend the morning journaling their experiences. “What an emotional morning we had; the kids telling stories of what they took and what they left behind,” Seeple said. Here is a sampling of what the kids had to say:

The Tea Fire

by Kyle Tro

“On Thursday night I was eating dinner, my mom was at a CSS (Cold Spring School) board meeting. She called us and said, “Look outside,” my dad said, “OK.” There was a tiny fire. Two minutes later my dad said, “Ann, get home!” The Fire……was getting closer. We started to pack up. My dad went to Westmont to get his laptop. Me and Kaden got in the car. Finally, my mom got in the car to evacuate. We survived but my home did not.” (Kyle and his parents, Ann and Nivo lived on Westmont Road and lost their home. Ann is a CSS board member, and Nivo is a professor at Westmont.)

The Tea Fire

by Eli McGuire:

“On Thursday, there was a big fire called the Tea Fire. I had to evacuate the fire. One of the fires was on Westmont Road. It was close to my house. I packed my toy robot and my teddy bear. I feel sad for the people who lost their home.”

The Tea Fire

by Josie Gonella

“On Thursday night me and my sister and my mom were watching High School Musical Two. When someone knocked on my door and he said, “Mam, I don’t know if you are aware but there’s a fire at Westmont.” My mom looked outside and she said, “Oh, my gosh.” My mom said “GET IN THE CAR!” Me and my sister were so scared. My mom said it’s going to be alright.” (Josie lives on Circle Drive-her home survived but the one next door did not.)

Scared

by Curran McCrory

“On Thursday night there was a fire called The Tea Fire. I was very scared. My mom called 911 but they were not any help. Then, my sister started crying. I’m glad that my house is safe.”

The Tea Fire

by Maddi Feld

“I felt scared and thoughtful. I have never seen a big fire. I got evacuated because the Tea Fire. I was really scared when I heard about it. I bet you would be scared, too!”

(Maddi lives on Circle Drive. – her home survived but the one next door did not.)

The Dangerous Fire of All

by Kellen Radtkey

“When the fire happened I was really knocked out. The fire was on Westmont. I evacuated so would not get hurt. My family was very worried. But the good thing is that I’m OK.”

The Tea Fire

by Arman Banan

“The Tea Fire started on Thursday. When the Tea Fire started I did not know what I was going to do. When my mom said we are going to evacuate I knew what was going on. When we left, I saw the fire behind our house. There was a helicopter right above the fire. It was pouring gallons of water. That was a big day.”