Bonnymede Condominium Fire

In addition to those left homeless after the recent Tea Fire, four more Montecito residents are without homes this week after a structure fire destroyed or damaged five Bonnymede condominiums late Monday night, November 17. The fire, which officials believe ignited on an upper story or attic, was put out by 30 firefighters from Montecito Fire Protection District, Santa Barbara City Fire Department, Santa Barbara County Fire Department, and Carpinteria-Summerland Fire District. According to Geri Ventura with Montecito Fire Protection District, the cost of structure loss, not including contents is $10,963,000. No injuries were reported. As of press time the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

A Crane Thanksgiving

Among tables adorned with pumpkins and leaves, students, parents and teachers at Crane Country Day School celebrated the season with a Thanksgiving feast. The meal, complete with turkey, stuffing, and all the traditional fixings, had special meaning this year as the school community embraced three of its own families who lost their homes in the Tea Fire.

Debbie Williams, Director of Admissions at the school, told us when the community of parents learned that three Crane families had lost their homes and that a fourth family’s home had significant damage, donations began pouring in. At the Thanksgiving Celebration, held on Friday November 21, special gift baskets containing various gift cards, along with homemade cookies, were presented to the families in need. Williams said local firefighters were also invited to the 9th annual Thanksgiving feast, but were busy with clean-up efforts and were unable to attend.

“There is never a disaster that can’t be transformed into a blessing,” said Crane Head of School Joel Weiss when addressing the crowd. He estimated that 45% of Crane families were evacuated during the fire, so everyone came back to class with many stories to tell. “It touched all of us,” he said. At least two former Crane families lost their homes as well.

Weiss, whose son Elijah is in the 4th grade at Crane, says the Thanksgiving feast has been a huge part of bringing a sense of community to the school. Students and faculty were seated in their “Crane Family” groups, which consist of “grandparents” (faculty), “parents” (8th graders), and “kids” (K-7th graders). Williams explained breaking up the school this way gives older kids a chance to learn a leadership role and allows teachers to know at least one child in every grade. “We aspire to thrive as a community,” Weiss said.

Earlier in the day, Crane students, with the help of volunteers from Westmont, spent hours assembling sifters to donate to Tea Fire victims. Teachers Bob Ingersoll, Phil von Phul and Chris Reussner organized the effort. Materials were donated by local construction company Giffin & Crane; Geoff Crane is grandson of the founder of the school. “They really feel like they’re doing something to contribute,” Williams said about the students helping fire victims. In all, about sixty sifters were made and donated.

Tea Fire Advice

In the aftermath of the fire that burned 80 homes in Montecito, a local construction company has one word for homeowners anxious to rebuild: patience. David Lack, president of Lack Construction Company in Santa Barbara, sat down recently to give us some advice on what Tea Fire victims should look for during the rebuilding process.

According to Lack, using local contractors with AIA-licensed architects is the first place to start. By using local firms, follow-up work is easier to manage, and keeping business local is ideal for the local economy. “It needs to be a community effort,” he said. Being vigilant about contracts and scheduling is also imperative, he added. By holding contractors, architects, and sub-contractors to a pre-arranged schedule, he says, a house can be built in a timely manner. “The sooner your job gets done, the less stress is put upon you,” Lack said.

“I hope people don’t just build the same house they had before,” he said, emphasizing that fire victims have a unique opportunity to change aspects of their home that were inconvenient or unsafe. However, keeping previous building plans cuts down on time spent meandering through Santa Barbara County Planning and Development: Lack says homeowners who keep their previous plans can go through an expedited 30-day permitting process.

Other things to consider when rebuilding: sustainable materials and fire safety, especially in an area expected to endure future wildfires. Lack listed many fire-safe building tactics including smooth plaster siding, fire sprinklers, and synthetic wood materials “laced” with fire retardants. “You’re trying to significantly lessen the odds by doing preventive measures,” he said. Metal studs can be used which are better for the environment and prevent termites. He also suggested tile roofs and a type of drywall available that is mold- and fire-retardant. “This stuff is not as expensive as it used to be,” he said of the newest fire technology. Another idea? A swimming pool with a built-in pump can be used to douse flames in an emergency.

Many contractors in Santa Barbara, including Lack, are using green building practices and sustainable building materials. Green materials contain fewer chemicals and are less fire prone, Lack explained. He also advised that once a new home is built, it is imperative to not only update changes with an insurance adjuster, but to have an ongoing, positive relationship with them.

Lack said he has recently built two homes with “fire emergency rooms” which are fireproof; they have a self-contained oxygen system built in. “First and foremost we want to save people’s lives; everything else is replaceable,” he said. Lack recently donated his construction equipment including trucks, water pumps, saws, generators and tools, to fire agencies and individuals; this past weekend his trucks were used by volunteers to help supply sandbags to flash-flood prone burn areas. “It’s amazing how everyone has pulled together to help,” he said.

Upper Village Merchants to Host Benefit

On Friday, December 5, a fundraiser will be hosted by merchants in the upper village to benefit Tea Fire victims. The fundraiser will be held from 2-4 pm at the village green, and will include a silent auction and raffle. Merchants in the upper village have donated items to be auctioned off. “This is a chance to help those affected by the fire and thank the fire department and MERRAG for their help,” said Montecito Association Executive Director Victoria Greene, who is helping spread the word about the event. Entertainment and refreshments will be provided.

Freeway Construction Update

Although construction on Highway 101 will cease during the Thanksgiving holiday, the respite will be short lived. In addition to ongoing construction, a long-term temporary closure at the southbound Hwy 101 on-ramp at Milpas Street will begin as early as December 8. While the on-ramp is scheduled to close for up to five months, crews are optimistic that they will be able to open the ramp ahead of schedule (weather permitting) due to work already completed.

The Montecito roundabout, which includes Coast Village Road, Cabrillo Blvd, Old Coast Highway and Hot Springs Road, will continue; the work was suspended temporarily to allow better fire vehicle access during the Tea Fire, and was resumed on November 20. A flagman was directing traffic last week at the intersection of Cabrillo Blvd and the freeway; his presence was technically unrelated to the Highway 101 Operational Improvements project, according to Kirsten Ayars, spokeswoman for the project. She said the flagman was directing traffic for soil sampling taking place underneath the overpass in preparation for a pedestrian crosswalk. The good news is that she does not anticipate the flagman being needed again anytime soon. Ayars also mentioned commuters should anticipate a 5-10 minute delay anywhere in the construction area: plan ahead and be patient, she advised.

For more information on Highway 101 Operational Improvement Project between Milpas and Hot Springs Roads, visit www.sbroads.com.