Monday, February 19 , 2018, 8:39 pm | Fair 48º


Local News

Grateful Santa Barbarans Thank Jesusita Fire’s First Responders

The community celebrates its spirit of cooperation and determination during a downtown gathering

Hundreds of Santa Barbara residents got the chance to say “thank you” to the Jesusita Fire’s first responders at a downtown gathering Tuesday. The event, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, the Conference and Visitors Bureau, the Downtown Organization and the Metropolitan Transit District, had two blocks of State Street blocked off and lined with fire trucks and emergency vehicles while police, fire, Forest Service and other personnel talked nearby with grateful residents.

The Santa Barbara High School Drum Line ushered in a short awards ceremony, emceed by Chamber of Commerce President Steve Cushman. He said that although every department in the county deserves credit for working together during the fire, “we decided it was important for us to honor the first responders first.”

Awards were given to the Ventura County Fire Department, the Santa Barbara Police Department, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department and the Sheriff’s Office, the Santa Barbara City Fire Department, the Montecito Fire Department, Southern California Edison, EMS, the Forest Service, Cal Fire, the California Highway Patrol, UCSB’s police department, the Carpinteria/Summerland Fire Department and the California Disaster Medical Support Unit.

Cushman said plaques also will be sent to the fire stations around the state that sent responders to Santa Barbara. The fire claimed nearly 9,000 acres, and more than 4,000 crew firefighters were on scene at the busiest point of the fire.

Corbett Bryant, 2, accepts a sticker Tuesday from Los Padres National Forest worker Mike Billgren
Corbett Bryant, 2, accepts a sticker Tuesday from Los Padres National Forest worker Mike Billgren. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Ventura firefighters Brian Bulger and Ron Topolinski, both of whom were injured fighting the blaze, received an award for their fire station and were given letters of recognition from Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum.

Capt. Topolinski said that the third Ventura firefighter who was injured and suffered third-degree burns, Robert Lopez, couldn’t attend the celebration and now has spent 10 days in the Grossman Burn Center.

Topolinski read from an e-mail that Lopez wrote and asked him to read. “I am healing at an incredible rate ... I would like everyone in the Santa Barbara community to know that this has been an experience that has brought all of us together,” Lopez wrote. “It is good to know that the act of helping your fellow man and neighbor is alive and well.”

Sheriff Bill Brown thanked residents for cooperating in what he called the “largest evacuation process in the history of this county.”

Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez receives an award Tuesday for the police work involved with the Jesusita Fire
Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez receives an award Tuesday for the police work involved with the Jesusita Fire. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

“Unfortunately, we’ve gotten pretty good at doing this, but so have the citizens,” he said. “We’re all kind of in this together.”

Departments from Ventura, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo also sent their police departments as a part of mutual aid, keeping shifts going that the county would have been unable to staff alone, he said.

County Fire Chief Tom Franklin again lauded residents who had heeded the requirement for defensible space around their homes. Otherwise, he said, “I’m convinced that this fire would have been much worse.”

Resident Nancy Martz, watching her 2-year-old son climb into the cab of a fire truck, got a chance to thank firefighters for their work. “We were evacuated for three days,” she said. “We are so grateful that they kept us safe.”

Beth Bailey said the fires had presented a learning opportunity for her 5- and 3-year-old girls. “We’ve really used these fires as teaching moments,” she said, adding that they were able to talk with their girls about the dangers of fire after the Tea Fire broke out. Being at Tuesday’s event gave the girls the chance to see all of the different agencies work together, she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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