Lemon orchards acted as firebreaks as the Gap Fire bore down on the neighborhoods above the “Patterson Avenue curve.” In the distance, a burned-out wasteland. (Laura Hout photo)

I hear helicopters again today, but they’re farther away. Last night I predicted Dos Pueblos Canyon would be in trouble. I hate it when I’m right. Driving up Old San Marcos Road, I see where fire jumped over the road. Had flames headed southeast into Park Highlands and my neighborhood, it would have been the Painted Cave Fire all over again. As Santa Barbara County Deputy Fire Chief Tom Franklin said at today’s news conference, some real firefighting happened a few nights ago. He estimates firefighters saved more than 100 homes Thursday night.

We know, Tom, we were there. I’ll never forget the phalanx of big red engine trucks stationed in front of our house. We thank you — one and all!
This morning, I walk the dogs, chatting with neighbors who’ve returned, all of us giddy we still have houses. One neighbor, who just finished a big kitchen remodel says, “My wife’s birthday present is coming home to her kitchen — still having a kitchen.” Weary calmness fills the air until a new sound shatters it. Attuned to the sound of fire trucks, helicopters and planes, it takes me a moment to recognize the noise. A leaf blower! I stomp up the street and reprimand the gardener using it. “Think about it,” I say, shaking my head. Common sense, people, please.

To that end I compiled the top 10 things we’ve learned during our Gap Fire experience. Some of them are tips from neighbors, some from Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, members, some good-old common sense.

1. When you see fire and think it could reach your neighborhood, stock up! Driving in and out will be tricky — if not impossible. On Day 2 I laid in some stores, and I’m damn glad I did. Buy groceries that won’t rot if you experience power outages. Keep bottled water on hand.

2. Have a “fire box” ready and prepare for inevitable blackouts. Include headlamps, flashlights, batteries, candles, shortwave radios, face masks, goggles, etc. We’ve had power outages every day now. Phones that plug directly into the wall will keep working, portable phones won’t.

3. Know emergency numbers of neighbors, family, friends and especially fire information lines. Know alternate escape routes in and out of your neighborhood.

4. Learn basic fire protection methods. Have the pros teach you, find a local CERT team member, and/or check out In certain cases you can help fight fire.

5. Establish a neighborhood watch. This proved immensely helpful, sharing information, watching out for each other, and providing much-needed moral support (thank you, Paula, Frank, Darcy, Jack and Mary!)

6. Stay informed. Help officials protect your neighborhood from looky-loos and looters by updating yourself on road closures. Call ahead — the best number we’ve found is 805.681.5195; the best Website for fire maps is Given changing conditions, personnel on the street may not always know the latest. It’s not their fault. Help them out.

7. You don’t have to leave. But be damn sure if you stay, you are fully prepared to flee. Know that if you leave a mandatory evacuation area, you will not be allowed back in until the order is lifted. And never stay if you can’t tolerate smoke. It was brutal.

8. Reach out. A real estate co-worker found me a vacant house — with a yard — I could flee to with three large dogs. And after viewing the Red Cross pet evacuation area, I know my big dogs would have been miserable. None of them are crate-trained and the pet area had no shade. Besides I’m not leaving them, scared and alone, while I sleep on a cot half a campus away. I commend the American Red Cross for its tireless efforts. But be proactive if you have large pets.

9. Watch the wind. Pray. At a certain point nothing else matters.

10. To rewrite Willie Nelson’s lyrics: “My heroes will always be firefighters.”

Laura Hout is a Santa Barbara real estate agent. Click here to read her first report and click here to read her second.