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Sunday, February 17 , 2019, 2:26 pm | Light Rain 55º


Bill Macfadyen: Paradise Road Wildfire Appears to Give Us a Break

NoozWeek’s Top 5 remains riveted on Santa Barbara’s deadly Mesa crash story, along with another fatal wreck on Highway 101

Get a load of this air drop. Click to view larger
Get a load of this air drop. (Diego Topete / Noozhawk photo)

There were 115,512 people who read Noozhawk this past week, according to our Google Analytics. Let me be clear: No ransom, er “maximum leverage,” exchanged hands.

Of course, about a quarter of our readers seemed to arrive on our site all at once after smoke from the Rey Fire began rising in the mountains above Santa Barbara. The barrage briefly slowed Noozhawk to a crawl before our web host could add more capacity. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Speaking of the Rey Fire, here’s my take on your top stories:

(ENPLAN interactive map)

1. 600 Acres Charred by Rey Fire Burning Along Paradise Road

Ominous smoke billowed high above the Santa Ynez Mountains the afternoon of Aug. 18, mushrooming into the sky in plain view from both the South Coast and the Santa Ynez Valley.

Mindful of the fire at Zaca Lake Retreat the day before, the Chimney Fire near Lake Nacimiento, the outrageous Blue Cut Fire in San Bernardino County, the Sherpa Fire on the Gaviota coast and California’s chronic drought, I think we’re all probably more wary than usual this fire season.

This latest wildfire was reported just after 3 p.m. Aug. 18 along Paradise Road in the Upper Santa Ynez River area. Dubbed the Rey Fire, apparently because it’s in the vicinity of 30,000-acre Rancho San Fernando Rey, the wind-driven blaze had grown to 600 acres within about six hours. By midday Aug. 19, it had grown to 1,000 acres.

According to Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason, around 300 people were evacuated from campgrounds, residences and ranches in the area. No structures had been damaged but dozens remain threatened.

Air tankers dropped loads of fire retardant until nightfall, and firefighters had 20 percent of the blaze contained by 9 p.m.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, but Eliason said a downed power line on Paradise Road may have had something to do with it.

“The winds are favorable right now,” he told our Tom Bolton. “It’s not burning toward the front country. That’s working in everyone’s favor.”

Click here for an interactive fire map from ENPLAN. Zoom in and click the fire symbols for further details about the Rey Fire and its progression.

Meanwhile, a big thank you to Noozhawk photographers Diego Topete and Zack Warburg, and to our enthusiastic readers who shared their fire photos with us. Click here for our Rey Fire photo gallery.

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Angel Flores Click to view larger
Angel Flores
Ben Rubio Click to view larger
Ben Rubio
Dani Hearn Click to view larger
Dani Hearn

Roadside tribute on Cliff Drive. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)
Roadside tribute on Cliff Drive. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

2. Friends Mourn 3 People Killed in Wreck on Santa Barbara Mesa

The week brought little new information about the Aug. 9 car crash that obliterated what had been a nearly two-ton Lexus sedan, killed three people and seriously injured a fourth.

There was some good news, which you can read about below, but for the most part the community is still waiting for professional crash theories from actual accident and law enforcement investigators.

Also pending are the Coroner’s Bureau toxicology reports on the victims of the high-speed wreck on Cliff Drive near La Marina Drive in Santa Barbara’s Mesa neighborhood.

Killed in the crash were Angel Luis Flores, the 24-year-old driver, and Daniella Diane “Dani” Hearn, 19, and Benjamin Samuel Rubio, 28, who were riding in the back seat.

The front-seat passenger, 29-year-old Michael James Mendoza, survived the crash with major injuries. Incredibly, he’s already been discharged from the hospital.

All four were from the Santa Barbara area.

Crash landing. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)
Crash landing. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

3. Early Morning Highway 101 Crash Kills 1, Seriously Injures 3 Others

A Colorado man died of injuries suffered in a middle-of-the-night rollover wreck on Highway 101 west of Goleta early on Aug. 14.

According to California Highway Patrol Sgt. James Richards, 74-year-old Jean Antognini of Lompoc was driving north just before 2 a.m. when she veered off the highway near El Capitán Ranch Road and her 2005 Saturn Vue overturned in the center median.

Partially blocking a southbound lane, the compact SUV subsequently was struck by two southbound cars.

Two SUV passengers were not wearing seatbelts, and were ejected in the crash, Richards said.

Antognini suffered major injuries and had to be freed from the wreckage by Santa Barbara County firefighters. She was transported by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

A 19-year-old man from Centennial, Colo., also was rushed to the hospital, where Richards said he was pronounced dead. His name has not yet been released.

Also injured were Avalon Jean McFarland, 19, of Centennial, and a 10-year-old girl from Rochester, N.M.

There were no other injuries in the crash. The CHP is investigating the cause.

4. Bill Macfadyen: Horrific Crash Captivates Community as Details Emerge About 3 Victims

It’s been nearly two weeks and there is little sign of slowing interest in the violent Mesa car crash that instantly killed three people and seriously injured a fourth.

The spectacular circumstances of the wreck itself clearly are a factor, but the victims’ apparent personal challenges and the fate of a dead single mom’s young son are equally engrossing.

All of Noozhawk’s reporting on the case made this past week’s Top 10, with three articles in the Top 5.

Struggling single mom Dani Hearn had reached out for help with her son, Lukas, and found so much more in return. (Mothers’ Helpers photos)
Struggling single mom Dani Hearn had reached out for help with her son, Lukas, and found so much more in return. (Mothers’ Helpers photos)

5. Local Couple Caring for Toddler Son of Woman Killed in Santa Barbara Car Crash

There has been very little good news to report about the aforementioned Aug. 9 car crash, but there is one ray of hope that actually may result in the brightest of all possible outcomes.

Thank God.

As it turns out, just five days before Dani Hearn was killed in the wreck, a local couple was granted temporary legal guardianship of her 1-year-old son, Lukas.

As Robin Unander-La Berge told our Brooke Holland, Hearn had reached out to Mothers’ Helpers, a nonprofit organization that Unander-La Berge had founded to assist moms who need baby items to care for their children.

The Santa Barbara mother of two and her husband, Dan La Berge, had provided Hearn with baby supplies last year, and they eventually met the 19-year-old mom, who reportedly had struggled with drugs and other challenges.

“All of it changed from there,”​ she said, explaining that Hearn earlier this year was desperate to find someone — anyone — to help watch her son while she worked and participated in the Santa Barbara City College summer bridge program, Single Parents Arriving Ready for College.

“We had a plan, and he was going to stay with us for only a few months,” Unander-La Berge wrote in a post on the Mothers’ Helpers’ Facebook page.

“The plan started to quickly slip away, and we agreed that we’d be his legal guardian until she could get things sorted out.”

Last month, the La Berges became Lukas’ temporary full-time caregivers, with temporary legal guardianship granted on Aug. 4. A hearing to make the legal custody permanent will be held in September.

The child’s biological father apparently is not in the picture, and for Lukas’ sake, may he stay that way.

Meanwhile, Brandon Lippincott, a close friend of Hearn’s, has started a GoFundMe page to help raise money for Lukas’ care and education. Click here to make an online donation. It could really use your help.

                                                                 •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Pasadena Woman Struck, Killed by Amtrak Train in Montecito.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

In other words: How Old Languages Add New Words.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

R.I.P. John McLaughlin, one of my favorite political commentators whose pioneering show, The McLaughlin Group, was must-see TV for me back when I worked in Fossil Media. Of course, Dana Carvey had an even better impression of him.


(Bill Martin video)

                                                                  •        •        •

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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