It has been one year since the Tea Fire ignited in the hills above Montecito, and one community that had a harrowing brush with the wildfire will meet Friday in commemoration.
Westmont College saw eight of its buildings destroyed last November in the first few hours of a blaze that raged for days. Of the 230 homes that were destroyed, 15 were Westmont faculty homes, and 62 students, 18 faculty members and nine staff were displaced. The fire also left the renowned Mount Calvary Monastery & Retreat House in ruins.
The Westmont College Student Association will host a community reception from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday in the Voskuyl Prayer Chapel. There will be light refreshments, prayer and worship, and a video and photo display.
In addition to Friday’s event, a rededication ceremony was held Nov. 1 for 14 faculty homes that were destroyed but have now been rebuilt.
The Tea Fire, fueled by gale-force sundowner winds and temperatures in the 90s, started in the area of the Tea Garden above East Mountain Drive.
The blaze also seriously injured two people and scorched 2,000 acres in the Montecito foothills, upper Sycamore Canyon and Rattlesnake Canyon.
A definitive cause of the fire remains unknown.
In the days after the blaze, investigators said they had evidence that 10 young people, nine of whom were SBCC students, were at the fire’s point of origin the night before it started and had lit a bonfire. After a three-month investigation, however, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office said it couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the group was responsible. In lieu of criminal charges, prosecutors pursued misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass and unlawful building and use of an unauthorized campfire.
In March, two of the defendants entered no-contest pleas; the other eight followed suit in May. All of them except one — who chose jail time to avoid probation — received community service, probation and fines.
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.