The wind-whipped wildfire that ignited in the Montecito foothills, burned through the Westmont College campus and led to the evacuation of thousands of people between Hot Springs and Mission Canyon roads remained calm last night, and firefighters are now switching gears into recovery mode, officials told news media at a briefing Saturday.
Meanwhile, late Saturday morning officials began lifting some evacuation orders, allowing about 1,000 residents to return to their homes. (Click here to read which areas are affected.)
A press release issued early Saturday said the fire has destroyed 210 homes, damaged another nine, injured 20 people and required the help of about 2,200 firefighters.
Officials said the 1,800-acre wildfire fire is about 40 percent contained. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County on Friday morning.
The cause of the blaze remained undetermined.
(Click here to see a map of the evacuation and evacuation-warning areas.)
By late Friday afternoon, the boundaries of the fire had not changed much since early morning: Las Canoas Road on the west, Cold Spring Canyon on the east, Rattlesnake Canyon on the north and Alameda Padre Serra on the south.
At a Friday afternoon news conference, officials said they were lucky that winds were calmer than expected. But they said challenges remain. For instance, they face the unwelcome prospect of fighting fires in temperatures that could reach the upper 80s this weekend.
“It’s still very unstable, and we’re not by any means ready for people to get back into their homes,” Santa Barbara Deputy Police Chief Rich Glaus said.
“It’s not a time to relax,” added Santa Barbara County Deputy Fire Chief Tom Franklin.
Although the blaze has not directly resulted in any deaths, officials Friday said a 98-year-old man with medical problems died after being evacuated to a hotel.
No new evacuation orders were issued Friday afternoon, but officials at the news conference said residents south of Alameda Padre Serra and west of Mission Canyon need to be ready to go on a moment’s notice.
Westmont College, meanwhile, had a harrowing brush with the blaze. The college has lost about 15 faculty homes and nine structures. The destroyed campus buildings included four of the 17 buildings that make up Clark Halls (F, G, M and S), Bauder Hall, the physics building, the old math building and two Quonset huts.
“We’re so thankful everyone is out of danger and that there were no injuries,” Westmont president Gayle Beebe said in a statement. “But we’re deeply saddened that 15 of our faculty families — and one retired professor — have lost their homes. Given the strength of the winds and the fire, we’re amazed the damage isn’t greater.”
The fire started about 5:50 p.m. Thursday above campus and by 6:15 p.m., the college’s Crisis Response Team had instructed students, faculty and staff to evacuate to Murchison Gymnasium, where they could be sheltered in place and protected from the fast-moving flames.
Westmont developed its crisis response plan years earlier 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, the students were safe inside, and the plan worked as expected, officials said.
Late Thursday, as winds died down in Montecito, the fire began marching southwest toward the backside of Santa Barbara’s Riviera.
Among the worst hit areas, officials said, were Conejo Road, Parma Park, and Banana and Coyote roads. By Friday afternoon, the renowned Mount Calvary Retreat House & Monastery, 2500 Mount Calvary Road, had been destroyed.
Authorities are urging Santa Barbara, Montecito and Goleta residents to limit their water use to support the firefighters in their efforts to tame the blaze.
The blaze broke out about 5:50 p.m. Thursday at Coyote Road and East Mountain Drive above Montecito’s Cold Spring neighborhood. Dubbed the Tea Fire because of its proximity to the famed Piranhurst Teahouse in the 700 block of East Mountain, the flames spread quickly in high winds gusting to nearly 70 mph and with temperatures in the upper 80s.
Officials declined to speculate on how the fire ignited.
Twenty people have been injured; 17 from inhalation and three from burns, officials said.
Thursday evening, the fire gave off an eerie pinkish glow, filling the air throughout downtown Santa Barbara with bits of ash and the smell of smoke — and for many, awakening memories of the Gap Fire that burned 9,400 acres in the foothills and mountains above Goleta in July. Electricity to much of downtown and Montecito was knocked out about 6:35 p.m. when the fire burned through high-voltage power lines above Montecito. At most intersections downtown, knots of camera phone-wielding spectators gathered to watch the flames flare above the Riviera.
About 5,500 people have been evacuated.
Early Saturday, the Santa Barbara County Emergency Operations Center released a comprehensive list of the areas where mandatory evacuations are in effect:
» North of Highway 192 between Hot Springs and Mission Canyon roads
» All of Sycamore Canyon
» North of Highway 192 between Sycamore Canyon and Gibraltar roads
» Between Hot Springs (eastern boundary) and Tunnel roads (western boundary) from Highway 192/East Valley Road at Hot Springs to Barker Pass Road to Alameda Padre Sierra (southern boundary) to East Camino Cielo (northern boundary)
» Both sides of Tunnel Road above Montrose Place
» Only residents on the east side of Tunnel Road below Montrose Place
» Residents on Gibraltar Road above the west fork of the Cold Spring Trail should evacuate to the north via East Camino Cielo. Residents below the west fork should evacuate to the south.
For other areas, officials issued evacuation warnings, meaning residents need to be prepared to pack. As of 10 a.m. Saturday, officials included these areas in their warning:
» North of Highway 192/East Valley Road between Hot Springs and San Ysidro roads
» Mission Canyon north of Highway 192/Foothill Road to Tunnel Road westbound on Foothill to Ontare Road, Ontare north of Foothill
» Bordered on the north by Alameda Padre Sierra, on the east by Montecito Street to Milpas Street, Milpas to Anapamu Street, Anapamu to Laguna Street, Laguna to Los Olivos Street, and Los Olivos to Alameda Padre Sierra
Roads closed early Friday included Alameda Padre Serra to Mission Canyon Road to East Camino Cielo, Ashley Road, East Mountain Drive between Hot Springs Road and Mission Canyon, Gibraltar Road at East Mountain, Gibraltar at Painted Cave Road, Mission Canyon at Foothill Road, and Sycamore Canyon Road. Click here for road closure updates or call 805.568.3006.
Thursday night, power was out in downtown Santa Barbara but lights were on along the Riviera. An estimated 20,000 residents were without electricity above East Valley Road in Montecito, but Southern California Edison crews restored power to the Parra Grande Lane, Riven Rock and upper Hot Springs Road neighborhoods at 4:10 a.m. Friday.
As of Friday afternoon, Cox Communications’ Internet and cable service remained down throughout a widespread area of Montecito.
Santa Barbara transportation manager Browning Allen said fire agencies on the front line included the Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County, Montecito and Carpinteria-Summerland departments, as well as the state Department of Forestry. Los Angeles area departments have sent 15 strike teams to the area and, by Friday afternoon, crews from as far away as Sacramento had arrived. Three water-dropping helicopters were working despite the high winds.
Santa Barbara City Administrator Jim Armstrong declared an official state of emergency for the city at 8:15 p.m. Thursday. Allen said downtown residents need not evacuate, but he added: “We’re telling people, if they are not comfortable, and it looks like it’s close, get out of the area.”
Late Thursday, firefighters were battling several fires at Clark Hall while a broken natural gas line brought down the campus’ generators. Westmont’s Web site went offline about 1:30 a.m. Friday as a result, hampering the efforts of parents trying to get updates. Current information is available through the school’s emergency hotline at 888.565.7911.
Friday night’s high school football games also were affected. Dos Pueblos, which had been scheduled to play Buena at home, will instead play at Buena at 7 p.m. Friday, with the junior varsity teams facing off at 4 p.m. San Marcos will meet St. Bonaventure at Ventura’s Larrabee Stadium at 4:30 p.m. Friday. Santa Barbara’s game at Ventura has been postponed until 4 p.m. Saturday. The Bishop Diego–Oak Park game has been canceled.
Santa Barbara High canceled its Friday night theater production of A Village Fable. The show will go on at 7 p.m. Saturday, however.
At San Marcos High, theater director David Holmes invited anyone displaced by the fire to attend the school’s Friday and Saturday performances of William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” free of charge. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7 p.m. Enter the VIP door and identify yourself as being displaced by the fire.
The American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter is operating an emergency shelter at San Marcos High, 4750 Hollister Ave., for any residents displaced by the fire. An additional emergency center has been established at Manning Park on San Ysidro Road. Santa Barbara School District spokeswoman Barbara Keyani said about 30 people were at the San Marcos center as of 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Small animals can be taken to the Santa Barbara Humane Society, 5399 Overpass Road, and large animals can be taken to Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real at Las Positas Road.
For many of the evacuees at the San Marcos High shelter, their stay was a one-night-only deal: On Friday night only about 35 people were hanging out in the gym, down from about 200 people the night before.
“People seem to have found other places,” said volunteer Gerry Roberson, although he was skeptical the number of evacuees would get down to zero within the next day.
But the community hasn’t stopped giving. Roberson said several people came up in the course of the first few hours of the shift to donate packaged goods for the shelter users.
Direct Relief International is distributing face masks for those susceptible to health problems as a result of the poor air quality as of 11:30 a.m. Friday at Mackenzie Park, on the corner of State Street and Las Positas Road.
For Tea Fire updates, call the Santa Barbara County public information line at 805.681.5197.
Information kiosks have been installed at Santa Barbara City Hall at 735 Anacapa St., Trader Joe’s Market at 29 S. Milpas St. and Loreto Plaza (Cox Communications) at 3305 State St.
For More Information
» Knight Broadcasting
KUHL-1410; KINF-1440 (Both AM)
KRAZ-105.9 and KSYV-96.7 (Both FM)
» Rincon Broadcasting
KTYD-99.9; KSBL-101.7 (All FM)
Plus Rincon’s Spanish language FM stations, KSPE-94.5 and KIST-107.7
Additional information can be found at sbparent.com.
Check Noozhawk for regular updates.
Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez contributed to this report. Write to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org