11-14-2008, 08:51 PM #1
Wildfires Destroy Homes in Montecito, CA
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Firefighters struggled Friday against an out-of-control wildfire that destroyed at least 100 homes in a wealthy, celebrity-studded enclave, flaring up so fast that it caught some terrified residents behind the automatic gates of their mansions.
Blistering winds gusting to 70 mph, dry brush and oil-rich eucalyptus trees helped turn an ordinary brush fire into an exploding inferno that quickly consumed rows of luxury homes and part of a Christian college campus where students spent the night in a gymnasium shelter, some praying and others sobbing.
"That whole mountain over there went up at once. Boom," said Bob McNall, 70, who with his son and grandson saved their home by hosing it down. "The whole sky was full of embers, there was nothing that they could do. It was just too much."
A state of emergency was declared in Santa Barbara County and about 5,400 homes were evacuated in Montecito, which has attracted celebrities such as Rob Lowe, Jeff Bridges and Oprah Winfrey, who owns a 42-acre estate.
Residents waited anxiously for word of their homes after fleeing with just a few minutes' notice. One 91-year-old man said he left with just his glasses and his wallet.
Lowe said he fled with his children as fire engulfed the mountain and flames shot 200 feet in the air. The family stopped to check on neighbors and found them trapped behind their automatic car gate, which was stuck because the power was out. Lowe said he helped get the big gates open.
"Embers were falling. Wind was 70 miles an hour, easily, and it was just like Armageddon," Lowe told KABC-TV. "You couldn't hear yourself think." Lowe said his house hadn't burned.
More than 1,000 firefighters were trying to gain an edge on the blaze before the region's famous "sundowner" winds — which roar down the mountains to the sea as the sun sets — picked up again, said Santa Barbara Fire Chief Ron Prince.
"Control of this fire is not even in sight," Prince said.
Fueled by vast stands of oil-rich eucalyptus trees — which exploded when lit — and decades of chaparral and other growth, the fire quickly spread to about 2,500 acres — nearly 4 square miles — by early Friday.
Ten people were treated for smoke inhalation and three others had burns, said Michele Mickiewicz, a spokeswoman with the county emergency operations center. Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital reported receiving three patients with substantial burns.
The fire destroyed the Mount Calvary Benedictine monastery and burned more than 80 homes to the ground, said Santa Barbara Sheriff-Coroner Bill Brown, who flew over the burn area about 120 miles north of Los Angeles early Friday. Many of the homes were in the winding streets around Westmont College.
At the Christian liberal arts school, 1,000 students were evacuated. About 300 spent the night on cots in the gym. Some stood in groups praying; others sobbed openly and comforted each other.
Flames chewed through a eucalyptus grove on the 110-acre campus and destroyed several buildings housing the physics and psychology departments, at least three dormitories and 14 faculty homes, college spokesman Scott Craig said.
"I saw flames about 100 feet high in the air shooting up with the wind just howling," he said.
Beth Lazor, 18, said she was in her dorm when the alarm went off. She said she only had time to grab her laptop, phone, a teddy bear and a debit card before fleeing the burning building.
Her roommate, Catherine Wilson, said she didn't have time to get anything.
"I came out and the whole hill was glowing," Wilson said. "There were embers falling down."
Among those worried about their homes was talk show host Winfrey. During a taping Friday morning, she said the fire was about two miles from her house. Homes of her friends and neighbors were destroyed.
"It's not a good morning for us," she said. "Some of my friends left their homes with only their dogs last night as I was calling, 'Are you all right? Are you all right?' They said, 'We have the dogs and the kids aren't here, so we're OK.'"
Evacuee Tom Bain relived the hellish scene after fleeing his home in five minutes with his three cats, some work files and a computer. On the way out, he saw at least six mansions on the ridge above his home explode in flames.
"I saw $15 million in houses burn, without a doubt," said the 54-year-old electrician. "They were just blowing up. It was really, intensely hot."
About 200 people spent the night at an evacuation center at a high school in nearby Goleta, but rest was out of the question for Ed Naha, a 58-year-old writer who feared he lost his home in the hills above Santa Barbara.
"We are used to seeing smoke because we do have fires up here, but I've never seen that reddish, hellish glow that close," Naha said. "I was waiting for Dante and Virgil to show up."
Flames had licked at the home of Gwen Dandridge, 61, and her husband Joshua Schimel, 51, but it was still standing when they returned Friday morning — something the couple attributed to lots of weed-whacking to clear the brush around the home.
"We have a house! We have a house!" Dandridge shouted said as she first spied the home.
Montecito, a quiet community known for its balmy climate and charming Spanish colonial homes, has long attracted celebrities.
The landmark Montecito Inn was built in the 1920s by Charlie Chaplin, and the nearby San Ysidro Ranch was the honeymoon site of John F. Kennedy in 1953.
Montecito suffered a major fire in 1977, when more than 200 homes burned. A fire in 1964 burned about 67,000 acres and damaged 150 houses and buildings.Check out updated daily: Tricia's Tidbits
Some days I feel like a tumbleweed blowing in the wind....
11-14-2008, 11:50 PM #2
Montecito is about 60 miles south of where i am, and its been on the news pretty much all last night and all day today. It is very sad to actually see other people's homes go down in flames...
I believe it was confirmed that at least 150 homes, long with parts of the college, were burned... and about 17 people have been injured, including some firefighters...
My thoughts and prayers to all those that have lost their home.
11-15-2008, 03:24 PM #3Registered User
- Join Date
- Apr 2005
Lots of smoke still today at my home just outside of the evacuation warning area.
Our local news coverage has been abysmal. Once again, the free Santa Barbara Independent gets the scoop:
Liveblog with an interesting discussion starting at this post:
Build in a firetrap and your house burns down
(warning: strong language)
Last edited by shana; 11-15-2008 at 05:18 PM. Reason: duhness...forgot link
11-15-2008, 05:24 PM #4Former Member
- Join Date
- Oct 2008
The Yorba Linda fire is about 10 miles from me. I took some pictures of the smokey sky. It's pretty wild. The news is reporting that the humidity in the area is about 4%.
11-15-2008, 05:34 PM #5Registered User
- Join Date
- Apr 2005
I've been watching raw feeds of the Yorba Linda and Sylmar fires...horrible!
Conditions are just ripe for arson. I suspect the cito fire was started intentionally.
Sending hope and positive thoughts to all in the affected areas.
11-15-2008, 06:11 PM #6Former Member
- Join Date
- Oct 2008
I just went outside and the smokey smell is overwhelming. The sky is getting darker. It's eerie.
11-15-2008, 06:53 PM #7
11-15-2008, 06:55 PM #8
It's been reported that over 500 mobil homes burned in one park. Most of the occupants were retired citizens.
It's getting scary out there.
Southern California fires burn hundreds of homes; thousands threatened
11-15-2008, 07:41 PM #9
I just found out my cousin's home is gone due to the fire. They live in Yorba Linda area."What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are." - C.S. Lewis
11-15-2008, 07:48 PM #10
11-15-2008, 07:49 PM #11
11-15-2008, 07:53 PM #12
11-15-2008, 07:56 PM #13
So far, 25 to 30 homes burned in Yorba Linda. It is fast moving.
They said the Anaheim Hills fire looks like it's going to be a long night.
PS......6000 homes being evacuated in OC.
11-15-2008, 08:22 PM #14Registered User
- Join Date
- Apr 2005
Tea Fire (btw, NOT just Montecito)
A welcomed calm descended upon Santa Barbara on Saturday. Skies returned to the normal blue, smoke plumes were non existent, and many evacuation order have been lifted. While firefighters note that many hot spots still exist, it appears the worst of the Tea Fire is over.
11-15-2008, 08:38 PM #15
I'm glad Santa Barbara is safe now. It looks like they're also able to open up the freeways up by Sylmar also.
Now we're watching the fires in OC.
By chicoliving in forum Up to the MinuteReplies: 6Last Post: 04-16-2008, 02:00 AM