Thursday, April 26 , 2018, 7:39 pm | Fair 58º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Report from the Front Lines, Day II

The sounds of helicopters and the sight of sneaking around your own neighborhood. Second in a series.

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The Gap Fire bathed the author’s house in an eerie light Thursday night. (Laura Hout photo)

High noon Friday:

The helicopters are flying low over the neighborhood. Welcome to the sounds of siege, I tell my husband. All day Thursday it was the same — thwock, thwock, thwock. I’ve met a few Vietnam vets who still tense up at the sound of helicopters. I’m beginning to understand. We wonder. though, why didn’t they get those birds into the sky earlier this morning when the winds were calmer? We realize what it feels like to be at the mercy of who-gets-what in the chess game played for firefighting resources. And, of course, we’re glad they’re here — but daylight was five hours ago.

No sun anymore, a smoky, almost humid blanket of foul ash clouds the sky. A strange stillness overtakes our half-deserted neighborhood. A few neighbors wave, on foot or bike.

We were able to take two loads out, a jerry-rigged event as we were told if we left we couldn’t drive our cars back in. So we off-load my car into a friend’s car, then he and my husband take our belongings to a safer location. However, when my friend drops my husband off, he isn’t even allowed to walk back in. Meanwhile, I’m home “safe” with the Subaru parked in go-mode, dog ramp at the ready for our three big dogs. I tell my husband about a shortcut into the neighborhood, and drive four-wheel roads to fetch him, evading roadblocks. It beats me how we are safer without a car to evacuate ourselves and our animals, never mind being separated. But I don’t make the rules, I just bend ‘em. What matters is we are together now, as helicopters thwock overhead, the sky fills with ash, and the fire beast in the hills feeds on wind and dry terrain.

About a year ago we started a neighborhood watch, and most of us have traded phone numbers so we can stay in touch. Ironic stories abound: one neighbor’s son was taking out heirloom Civil War rifles when he was stopped by officials who wanted to arrest him on the spot. After a call to a captain and since the rifles don’t fire without blasting powder, he was allowed to “transport firearms” after the guns went into the trunk.

Another neighbor up the road instructs us on how to fight fire — if it’s feasible. Goggles, face mask and long pants to ward off blowing embers. Hit the firebrands with water, he says, water puts out fire. Another man, who rebuilt his mother’s home in this neighborhood, is also determined to stay. “I’m not rebuilding again,” he says.

A report of looters in the neighborhood last night had us all convening under streetlights. Without really putting it into words we know we are there for each other, watching and waiting, be it wildfire, looters or “evacuation” rules that don’t seem to make common sense. From my office window I can see the big hill that separates us from the fire’s east flank up Patterson Canyon. If the flames hit Maria Ygnacio Creek, we’ll have to load up the dogs.

Until then, together we stand and fight.

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

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