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Sunday, February 17 , 2019, 5:03 pm | Partly Cloudy 55º


Residents, Animals Evacuating Thomas Fire Area Head to Santa Barbara-Area Shelters

Red Cross opens UCSB shelter while Earl Warren Showgrounds accepts evacuated horses and other animals; agencies distribute masks in response to air quality warning


The growing Thomas Fire drove Santa Barbara County residents and animals to evacuation shelters Thursday as flames continued to burn toward the Carpinteria Valley. 

The Thomas Fire had burned 115,000 acres in Ventura County as of Thursday night and was 5 percent contained. 

Mandatory evacuation orders and voluntary warnings were issued for Santa Barbara County areas Thursday, including the eastern Carpinteria Valley and Rincon Point. 

Click here for updates from the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management and here for Ventura County emergency updates. 

Volunteers have been working since Tuesday at the UC Santa Barbara evacuation shelter, one of five Thomas Fire shelters opened by the Red Cross. 

They have been providing food, water, cots, blankets and comfort to about 60 people, UCSB Red Cross shelter manager Erick McCurdy said Thursday. 

“We have to be prepared for the uncertain,” McCurdy said. “We are prepared now and we will be here until we are no longer needed.”

People are allowed to bring smaller pets to the UCSB shelter, said Dominique Smith, a Red Cross supervisor.

“We are here because we want to serve you, so please come,” Smith said.

McCurdy said the university can arrange for more accommodations if the UCSB Multi-Activity Center at the university’s Recreation Center fills to the maximum capacity of about 400 people. 

“The university has adjacent facilities — we can have up to 1,500 people on the university campus,” McCurdy said. “If everything goes wrong — we hope it doesn't — there are more places we can go to on the campus.” 

For Julia McClenon and her service dog, a grey toy poodle named Xiaoyun, the UCSB evacuation shelter at 516 Ocean Rd. was a place to receive a meal and a safe place after evacuating.

The Santa Barbara County Reserve Medical Corps distributes free face masks at the Goleta Costco Thursday afternoon as the South Coast air quality records unhealthy and hazardous levels. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara County Reserve Medical Corps distributes free face masks at the Goleta Costco Thursday afternoon as the South Coast air quality records unhealthy and hazardous levels.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

“I was starving,” McClenon said. “I grew up in California, but I have never been evacuated. I feel fortunate — it’s just me and him (the dog). There’s a family here with four kids, and that would be so much harder.” 

McClenon said she left her Carpinteria residence east of Bates Road after receiving a voluntary emergency notification shortly after 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. 

She was packed up and ready to go.

“When I first heard about the fire on Tuesday, I started packing my car,” McClenon said. “I have my most sentimental things. The first thing I did was move my motorcycles to a friend's house in Santa Barbara. If I can just have my motorcycles, I will be OK.” 

She slept on someone’s couch Wednesday night, and early Thursday morning a mandatory evacuation order was issued for parts of Carpinteria, which is when she headed to UCSB. 

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department evacuated an estimated 300 residents from the area of Bates Road and Rincon Point early Thursday.

“This is my first time at a Red Cross center,” McClenon said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

McClenon, a UCSB graduate student, said she is hopeful her friends can accommodate her on a couch or a bed on Thursday night.

Earl Warren Showgrounds fills with fire-evacuated animals  

In addition to the Ventura County Fairgrounds at 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Santa Barbara County facilities are accepting evacuated animals from the Thomas Fire.

Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara was hosting hundreds of horses and other animals Thursday.

Jeff Dunstone, of Montecito, evacuates his horses to the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara on Thursday. Click to view larger
Jeff Dunstone, of Montecito, evacuates his horses to the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara on Thursday. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Animal owners around Ventura County and Santa Barbara's South Coast transported their four-legged friends into trailers and away from the swift-moving flames. 

Jeff Dunstone, of Montecito, was at Earl Warren Showgrounds and said he had to think quickly to evacuate his miniature burros, Icelandic horses and horses.

“I don’t like the way the fire looks,” Dunstone said, who wasn’t living within the mandatory evacuation order area.

By midday Thursday, the Santa Barbara Equine Assistance and Evacuation Team housed 330 animals.

Five hundred spaces are available, said Kathy O'Connor, president of the nonprofit.

“Anyone that comes in, we will do what we can — we will remain open for as long as it is needed — we don’t know how long we are going to be here,” O’Connor said. “The volunteers have saved us. They water, feed the animals and clean the stalls. They have been great.”

In addition to the horses, the evacuation center has pigs, lamas, alpacas, ducks, chickens, a bull named Rudy, cows, sheep and goats.

“If your home is burned down, someone is here to take care of your horse, and you can take care of your life,” said Rayven Boshco, a Santa Barbara Equine Assistance and Evacuation Team volunteer. “I have the skill set to help. I know a lot of the people here. People are scared and this is what they love, and I support that.”

Sherry Lawson, another volunteer, said she also brought extra hay for the animals. 

“I have been an animal rescue volunteer during the different fires, and this time we needed the help,” said Lawson, who is from the Carpinteria/Ojai Ranch.“The air was thick. To have (Santa Barbara) Equine is a godsend. Other animals are trying to get out. The sheep are extremely intelligent — when they saw us coming, they ran to us, I called them by their names and we got them into the rescue trailer.”

Goleta-area residents pick up face masks Thursday afternoon. Click to view larger
Goleta-area residents pick up face masks Thursday afternoon.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County Animal Services has a hotline for animal evacuations at 866.387.8911.

Masks distributed at South County sites during air quality warning

An air quality warning is in effect in the South County and the Public Health Department said more N-95 masks, which help protect against smoke particles, will be distributed for free starting at 10 a.m. Friday at three locations:

» Costco in the Camino Real Marketplace, 7095 Market Pl Drive, Goleta. 

» Franklin Community Center, 1136 East Montecito St., Santa Barbara.

» Albertsons in Carpinteria, 1018 Casitas Pass Rd., Carpinteria.

Susan Klein-Rothschild, deputy director of the county Public Health Department, noted that these masks do not fit children properly. 

Masks were distributed Thursday as well, and a long line formed in front of the Costco booth. 

Direct Relief International donated 7,500 masks Thursday at the Costco location, said Katie Lewis, the nonprofit’s senior program manager.

“These aren’t going to protect you fully, but it does help filter out what is in the air,” Lewis said. “It’s important for people with upper respiratory problems to wear the masks, also the elderly and young.”

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Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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