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Local News

Bill Macfadyen: Summerland Family Loses It All in House Fire at Height of Wind Storm

NoozWeek’s Top 5 puzzles over a pickup truck’s aerial acrobatics, encounters a helicopter space invader and raids a drug lab, while a fatal head-on crash takes a suspected DUI turn

This picture pretty much says it all. Click to view larger
This picture pretty much says it all. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

Clayton Kershaw is a warrior, but the Los Angeles Dodgers are one loss away from being exposed for what they are: A team with just one reliable starting pitcher.

Shame on them for getting him zero help when he needed it most.

Win or lose, I vow to respect the outcome, however. As I have every year except those improbable seasons when the San Francisco giants got lucky and actually won titles.

While we wait for World Series fever, there were 99,628 people who were reading Noozhawk this past week, according to our Google Analytics.

Here’s my take on your top five stories:

1. 3-Story Summerland Home Destroyed by Wind-Whipped 4-Alarm Fire

A house fully engulfed in flames, brightly silhouetted against a night sky. Howling winds sending sparks and embers skittering through the air.

The images are heartbreaking, evoking uncomfortable memories of the Jesusita and Tea fires that wreaked so much destruction on Santa Barbara County’s South Coast.

Flames of reference. Click to view larger
Flames of reference. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

Amid erratic, 67 mph winds, it’s quite a miracle that firefighters were able to keep a spectacular Summerland house fire largely contained to the structure the other night, but they did.

Tragically for the family of victims, that’s all they could do.

Just after dark on Oct. 18, Carpinteria-Summerland firefighters responded to a report of a power surge at a house in the 2400 block of Whitney Avenue at the top of Summerland.

While they were checking out the property, they discovered that the three-story house up the hill across the street was in flames. Within seconds, all hell broke loose.

Firefighters launched an all-out assault, calling in reinforcements from the Montecito, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County and Ventura County fire departments.

A total of 75 — that’s right, 75 — firefighters battled the four-alarm blaze.

Wind-blown embers spread to a majestic oak tree in the front yard, then started a nearby brush fire that grew to a quarter-acre before it was corralled.

Neighbors were evacuated as firefighters successfully protected other homes downwind from the flames.

The wood-frame house was “a total loss,” according to authorities. The residents were not at home at the time of the fire, and there were no injuries.

Grace Donnelly, spokeswoman for the Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District, said it likely will take investigators several days to determine the fire’s cause.

Let’s go over this one more time. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)
Let’s go over this one more time. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

2. 2 Men Hurt as Pickup Plunges From Highway 154 Onto Santa Barbara Street

There’s probably a perfectly good explanation for this. But I don’t have it.

A GMC pickup truck traveling north on Highway 154 the afternoon of Oct. 15 crashed through a guardrail and sailed 30 feet off the roadway at La Colina Road in Santa Barbara.

The pickup landed on a parked flatbed truck on the street below before tumbling to the pavement, not far from the parking lot at Bishop Diego High School.

What’s odd is that the crash occurred on a flat, straight stretch of the highway, at a place where drivers are just getting up to speed from the nearby intersections at Calle Real and Outer State Street.

The men, whose identities were not disclosed, were taken by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. According to Santa Barbara Fire Capt. David Ward, one had moderate injuries and the other minor injuries.

Santa Barbara police are investigating the crash.

Cleared for landing. For real this time. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)
Cleared for landing. For real this time. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

3. Hollywood Director Recalls Scary ‘Near Miss’ Landing at Santa Barbara Airport

A Noozhawk reader recently contacted us with what we thought was a pretty good story: A “terrifying” near miss with a helicopter while the jet on which he was a passenger was landing at the Santa Barbara Airport.

Our reader — a pilot himself — was flying on United Airlines Flight 5038 from LAX as the 50-seat CRJ-200 regional jet, operated by SkyWest Airlines, was preparing to land shortly after 12:30 p.m. Oct. 8.

“We were about 500 above ground level ... when the plane violently banked right about 45-60 degrees, and out the southern facing window I saw a helicopter flash by,” recalled Fred Toye, who lives in Montecito with his family.

“The pilot immediately banked violently back left again, still descending and attempting to return to the runway for landing.”

At this point, Toye said, many of the passengers were screaming and crying.

Toye, a Hollywood director of TV shows such as The Good Wife and Westworld, says he talked to the pilot, who noted that “they felt the rotor wash of the helicopter” as it went past.

Our Tom Bolton began investigating but getting information out of a bureaucracy — or several of them — is an epic challenge. Unless you like acronyms.

Tracy Lincoln, the Santa Barbara Airport’s operations director, had not even heard about the incident. He contacted the control tower, but it took several days for air traffic manager Todd Smith to get back with him and confirm that something had, indeed, happened.

“Our radar replay showed that the aircraft were closer than we prefer,” Smith said.

“The helicopter pilot was told about the inbound (United flight) and advised us that he had the regional jet in sight. We are unclear why he flew that close to the arrival.

“We are going to conduct a System Service Review to determine what we can do to preclude a similar event from occurring.”


Meanwhile, SkyWest was able to use the plane again, which I’ve always understood to mean the landing was successful.

Safe travels.

Just wait, one day this home-brew science project will all be legal. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)
Just wait, one day this home-brew science project will all be legal. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

4. Santa Barbara Man Arrested after Raid on Mountaintop ‘Honey Oil’ Lab

Santa Barbara County sheriff’s investigators hit the jackpot when they served a search warrant at a rustic residence in the 5600 block of West Camino Cielo, just off Highway 154.

Brennan Honey Boo-Boo Prowell. (Santa Barbara County Jail photo)
Brennan “Honey Boo-Boo” Prowell. (Santa Barbara County Jail photo)

According to sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover, the Oct. 12 excursion turned up a butane “honey oil” lab, marijuana plants, nearly 20 pounds of processed pot, almost 950 pounds of marijuana shake, psilocybin mushrooms and prescription drugs belonging to a dead person.

Although six people were detained in the search, Hoover said only one arrest was made, that of Brennan Prowell, 34, of Santa Barbara. Authorities allege he’s apparently quite an industrious young man.

Prowell was booked into County Jail, and faces charges of cultivating marijuana, manufacturing a controlled substance, possession for sale of psilocybin mushrooms, possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance for sale, and possession of prescription medication without a prescription.

Hoover said the honey oil lab — which uses highly volatile liquid butane to extract THC, the active ingredient, from marijuana — was so complex and contained enough safety hazards that the multiagency Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force was called in to help dismantle it.

A “qualified hazardous material contractor” also was dispatched to remove contaminated material, she said.

This used to be a Mercedes-Benz. Its driver, Victoria Levinson, died of her injuries from a head-on collision with a suspected DUI motorist. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)
This used to be a Mercedes-Benz. Its driver, Victoria Levinson, died of her injuries from a head-on collision with a suspected DUI motorist. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

5. Santa Maria Woman Fatally Injured, Another Arrested After Head-On Crash West of Lompoc

A head-on collision fatally injured a Santa Maria woman west of Lompoc the night of Oct. 13.

The driver of the second vehicle was — wait for it — arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. In fact, there was some indication that the suspect’s car may have been linked to an earlier report of a hit-and-run collision in Lompoc.

Authorities say the wreck happened about 10:20 p.m. on West Ocean Avenue, east of Douglass Avenue.

The California Highway Patrol said Abigail Morrissey, 32, of Santa Maria, was westbound on Ocean when the 1996 Buick she was driving crossed into the oncoming lane and slammed into a 1988 Mercedes-Benz driven by 62-year-old Victoria Levinson.

The force of the impact propelled the cars into surrounding fields.

Both women required extensive extrication to get them out of their cars, and the operation had the involvement of personnel from the Santa Barbara County, Lompoc and Vandenberg fire departments, the CHP, Lompoc police and American Medical Response.

Levinson died of her injuries at the hospital a few hours later.

The CHP said Morrissey broke her hip in the crash, and subsequently was arrested on suspicion of felony DUI.

The collision is under CHP investigation.

                                                                 •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? I-5 Closure Snarls Highway 101 Traffic in Santa Barbara.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

I think we can agree to disagree, at least when it comes to our own floors. Sorry, Kids, the 5-Second Rule Is Bunk.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. If this video doesn’t make you go “Awwwww,” you have no soul.

(Zach Fossier 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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