Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 8:54 pm | Fair 56º


Local News

Firefighters Closing In on Tea Fire Containment

Crews corral 95 percent of the $4.9 million fire; full containment is expected by 6 p.m. Monday.

A forlorn coyote bays from the gate of a fire-damaged home at Coyote Road and East Mountain Drive, near where the Tea Fire ignited Thursday.
A forlorn coyote bays from the gate of a fire-damaged home at Coyote Road and East Mountain Drive, near where the Tea Fire ignited Thursday. (James O’Mahoney photo)

A weekend of cooperative weather allowed firefighters to gain the upper hand on the devastating Tea Fire that erupted late Thursday afternoon and destroyed 210 homes on its wind-whipped march through the western Montecito foothills and upper Sycamore Canyon.

The scope of the mandatory evacuation from the burn area was narrowed to 260 homes Sunday night, down from more than 5,000 on Friday.

The Santa Barbara County Joint Incident Command said Sunday night that the 3-day-old blaze had burned 1,940 acres — a figure roughly unchanged for the past 48 hours. More than 1,300 firefighters and support personnel are still battling the fire, which is now 95 percent contained. Full containment is expected by 6 p.m. Monday.

Officials estimate the firefighting cost at more than $4.9 million to date. Damage assessments are ongoing and it likely will be later this week when a dollar estimate can be determined for the overall destruction.

The cause of the fire has been determined to be caused by human activity, Anyone with information, particularly with regards to individuals entering the Tea House area above East Mountain Drive in Montecito late Wednesday or early Thursday are urged to call the Sheriff’s Department anonymous tip line at 805.681.4171. It is still unknown whether the fire was accidental or intentional.

One death has been linked indirectly to the fire and there have been a score of injuries, including three burn injuries and 22 cases of smoke inhalation.

The fire ignited about 5:50 p.m. Thursday at the Tea House above East Mountain Drive near Coyote Road in the Montecito foothills. Propelled by winds gusting to 70 mph, the wildfire tore through the Westmont College campus and its faculty housing and raged up the backside of Santa Barbara’s Riviera neighborhood, hopscotching among houses.

Officials said 130 houses were destroyed in the city of Santa Barbara and another 80 in the county. The worst hit areas were Conejo Road, Parma Park, and Banana and Coyote roads. The renowned Mount Calvary Retreat House & Monastery, 2500 Mount Calvary Road, suffered significant damage.

A partial list of the addresses of the destroyed homes is available on the Web sites of Santa Barbara County and the city of Santa Barbara. The list will be updated as information is collected.

The Tea Fire spared little in the view toward Coyote Road from Mountain Drive.
The Tea Fire spared little in the view toward Coyote Road from Mountain Drive. (Richard Weston-Smith photo)
Montecito residents can call the Montecito Fire Protection District at 805.565.8021. Information is also available from the county public information line at 805.681.5197. Noozhawk will have additional information, as well.

(Click here to see a partial list, and click here to view a preliminary map detailing which homes are lost.)

County emergency officials are requesting that all evacuees register with the American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter’s Safe and Well Program. Call 805.687.1331 to register your evacuation status, or register in person at the Red Cross emergency shelter at San Marcos High, 4750 Hollister Ave.

As of Sunday night, the mandatory evacuation order had been reduced to about 260 homes on the following streets:

» Camino Alto

» Conejo Lane

» Conejo Road

» Ealand Place

The gutted remains are all that is left of a truck near Mountain Drive.
The gutted remains are all that is left of a truck near Mountain Drive. (Richard Weston-Smith photo)
» Orizaba Lane

» Sherman Road

» West Mountain Drive between El Cielito and Coyote roads

» Gibraltar Road north of El Cielito to East Camino Cielo

Access is prohibited beyond the following locations:

» Camino Alto at Las Alturas Road

» Conejo Road at Las Alturas and Stanwood Drive

» Coyote Road at East Mountain Drive (no access westbound on Mountain)

» El Cielito Road at Gibraltar Road (no northbound access up Gibraltar)

» El Cielito at Mountain Drive (no access to Mountain)

» Orizaba Lane at Stanwood

All other previously listed mandatory evacuation areas are open to residents with government-issued identification. Residents with identification will be allowed past the following barricades:

» Chelham Way at Sycamore Canyon Road (westbound residents only on Sycamore Canyon)

» Coyote Road at East Mountain Drive (south on Coyote restricted to residents only)

» El Cielito Road at Mount Calvary Road

Article Image
Water-dropping helicopters were a familiar sight for Mission Heights residents underneath the flight path between the fire lines and Lauro Reservoir off San Roque Road. (Tim Owens photo)
» Las Alturas Road at Alameda Padre Serra

» Las Alturas at Mission Ridge Road (no Conejo Road access permitted)

» Loma Media Road at Las Alturas

» Rockwood Drive at El Cielito

» Stanwood Drive at Mission Ridge

» Sycamore Canyon at the Five Points roundabout

Officials have said they are sensitive to evacuees’ frustration at not being able to return home. The recovery effort is proceeding as quickly as possible, they said.

“We are working very diligently to try to get people back into their homes,” Sheriff Bill Brown told a Saturday news conference.

“People who live in the burn area may be days away from being allowed to return,” he added. “It’s essentially like a combat zone. There are properties that have been destroyed, they need to be inventoried, and search and rescue has to go through and examine them.”

Looking ahead to the rebuilding process, Michael Zimmer, the county’s chief building inspector, said seven “strike teams” of inspectors have been determining the safety of affected structures. He explained that red tags indicate a structure is unfit to be occupied; yellow tags allow limited entry, meaning residents will be allowed in to retrieve belongings; and green tags mean residents are cleared to return, pending the approval of police and fire agencies.

Meanwhile, Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum said the city is developing plans to streamline the review process with “as-built” plans.

Write to [email protected]

View Larger Map

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >