Friday, July 20 , 2018, 9:45 pm | Partly Cloudy 66º


Local News

Report from the Front Lines

First-person account of dangerous dilemma: Should I go or should I stay?

Flames rage around electrical towers and high-tension wires at the end of Camino Meleno in Goleta on Thursday evening. (Mo McFadden photo)

11 p.m. Thursday:

About 10 engine trucks lined up at the corner of our street and Old San Marcos Road earlier tonight for “structure protection” for our neighborhood. Not good. It’s 11 p.m. now and they are gone, either up to Painted Cave or perhaps to Patterson Avenue above the curve, both of which are under mandatory evacuations. All day long we’ve been under siege as water-dropping helicopters fly low over our neighborhood. The power went out again, and we had to pack up in darkness, me with the camping headlamp, Daniel with candles and lanterns. We were told to leave when the trucks arrived earlier, but along with some other neighbors we opted to stay. As of now we are ready to go, stuffing as much as we can into two cars with room for the three big dogs. Daniel was supposed to go to work tonight, but I said “No, you don’t.” He agrees in retrospect and they found someone to cover for him.

How do you decide what to take, and what to leave? For me it’s writing, music, photo albums and great-grandma’s red lamp. Some of the Indian jewelry that survived the 1990 Painted Cave Fire for sentimental reasons. Maybe they’re good luck things? There are things I learned in the last fire that you just can’t replace. Hard drives, external hard drives, laptops, yeah, we got all that. But the mementos. They hurt the worst. And the hell with the rest. And, no, at this point, we can’t take loads out and come back — because they won’t let us back in. We do have a place to go to, which is good, even with the dogs. So until we get the word, we are here, packed and ready, drained, sweaty and high on adrenaline. I’m having wine. Go figure! So are the neighbors. It’s a gallows humor-sort group at this point. We’ve been through this before. And the rest have fled. I can hear those helicopters even now, which is amazing, I didn’t think they flew at night. The wind has picked again, too, and it’s blowing right toward us. We are triangulated between the two mandatory evacuation areas. Dead in the direction the wind is blowing.

Uh ... the big fire trucks are back. Not a good sign. Our neighbor is a newscaster and right now she is doing a live phone-in broadcast about how the winds have just picked up significantly again. Reports of structures lost are now coming in. I’ve opened the north window in my office — and the winds are strong again — the smell of smoke choking and way too close. On the second story I have a bird’s eye view of fire trucks going by. And also not good: the winds are predicted to be a factor through 4 a.m.

Not sure fireworks are going to be fun for us this year …

Laura Hout is a Santa Barbara real estate agent.

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