In spite of their burns, Gretchen, Graham and Braiden Flaherty — at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital’s Grossman Burn Center — say they feel blessed and are extremely grateful for the outpouring of community support after their Thanksgiving camping accident.
In spite of their burns, Gretchen, Graham and Braiden Flaherty — at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital’s Grossman Burn Center — say they feel blessed and are extremely grateful for the outpouring of community support after their Thanksgiving camping accident. (GoFundMe photo)

At long last, I’m excited to announce that Noozhawk will be entering a new phase in our 16-year evolution as we officially join the Newspack family on Dec. 7. Let’s hope it’s not a day which will live in infamy.

This transition is an important milestone for us, and for you.

Newspack — a project of Automattic, the company that owns the WordPress publishing platform; the Google News InitiativeThe Lenfest Institute for JournalismConsenSys; and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — is intended to simplify the publishing process for small online news organizations like ours.

By creating an innovative and intuitively responsive back-end content management system, and continuously refining and enhancing it, Newspack will enable Noozhawk to focus more of our attention and resources on the local journalism you depend on.

We were one of the earliest news sites to be recruited into the project more than three years ago, but the complexity of Noozhawk’s current publishing platform — and the massive volume of content we’ve compiled over the last 15 years — kept prolonging the move.

So, 2½ years later than we expected, we’re finally ready to go.

Around midmorning on Dec. 7, readers will sense that something is different on the Noozhawk website. If we’ve prepared properly, and I’m increasingly confident that we have, you won’t be able to quite put your finger on what has changed, but you’ll be able to easily find what you came for anyway and will continue as before.

We’ve updated our Noozhawk logo, changed a few fonts to improve readability, and reorganized our homepage to display more of the vast amount of Santa Barbara County news we cover every day of the year.

The Newspack platform also sets us up for additional reader engagement and personalization, including more direct access to our team members and the ability to upload your submissions — news tips, news releases, obituaries, photos of the day, and letters to the editor, among other things — right into our system.

Not all of these features will be available on Day One, but it won’t be long until they’re activated. Since Noozhawk’s conception, we’ve strived to followed two 37 Signals maxims: “Build Less” and “It’s a Problem When It’s a Problem.”

That advice keeps us from overthinking before we start something and reminds us that our readers almost always will show us what’s most important to them.

To that end, after our relaunch, should you encounter something that doesn’t seem right, doesn’t work right, is a bad link or is just plain annoying, please email us at news@noozhawk.com and/or me at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com. Compliments are also accepted.

In these last few days before the switch, a couple of current features have been turned off temporarily so we can ensure that nothing is missed in the final migration of our enormous database. If you run into one of those dead ends, you can email your submission to news@noozhawk.com and we’ll take care of it.

Our e-Bulletins — the 4:15 a.m. A.M. Report and the 4:15 p.m. P.M. Report — have been reformatted but will undergo their own makeovers early in 2023. A number of other features and improvements will be added throughout next year as we gain experience and efficiencies.

This adventure has been a total team effort, and would not have happened without the leadership of my two partners, executive editor Tom Bolton and business development vice president Kim Clark. It was a lot of work, and far more expensive than we budgeted, but we always understood it was necessary for Noozhawk’s continued growth and development.

Tom and managing editor Giana Magnoli have expertly lived up to her title as they managed almost every aspect of our transition, advising on navigation and design, coordinating testing and review, and shepherding the training and organization of our staff’s journey from the familiar to the unknown.

Kim and sales manager Sheridan Taphorn thought through and supervised the complicated transfer of our myriad special sections and advertising positions on both our web and mobile sites. Kenny Katzgrau, the founder and CEO of Broadstreet, our ad manager, and his team diligently guided us through a process that had more twists and turns than we ever could have imagined.

I’m grateful to Newspack technical account manager Ken Gagne, who has provided tremendous guidance and direction, and to communications director Steve Beatty, an old friend who led our initial staff training with patience and humor.

Perhaps my biggest shout-out goes to our longstanding web development partner, Vancouver-based Hop Studios.

My friends, special projects manager Susie Gardner and president Travis Smith, were absolute Hawk stars in rescuing our stalled project earlier this year and pulling it across the finish line. Web developers Gil Lin and Abhi Nirwan handled an enormous amount of tedious back-end work to keep it all moving.

We’re bringing Hop Studios with us into Newspack because I can’t imagine doing any of this without their advice and expertise. Plus, they know where all of our bodies are buried in our coding.

But enough about next week. You’re reading this Best of Bill column for my take on what happened this past week.

According to our Google Analytics, Noozhawk had an audience of 88,991 readers for the period.

As a reminder, this is my opinion column with my recap of the Top 5 stories you were reading. I wish I had more uplifting items, but I promise that the first one — as terrible as it is — includes a message of grace and hope.

1. Lompoc Family Suffers Serious Burn Injuries in ‘Horrific’ Accident While Camping

A Thanksgiving camping trip near Ridgecrest took a horrific turn for a Lompoc High School teacher and her family when a flash fire badly burned several members of the party.

As our Janene Scully reported, Lompoc High agriculture teacher Gretchen Flaherty; her husband, Graham; their children; and her father were among several families on the outing in the high desert east of Bakersfield.

“While camping on Thanksgiving with family and friends, an outdoor heating device erupted, spraying hot fuel on Gretchen, Graham, their 16-year-old son, Braiden, and Gretchen’s father, Richard,” according to a GoFundMe page started by family friend Ian Charnley.

Charnley told Janene that it “basically was a fireball in the camp.”

With fire engulfing Flaherty’s father, Richard Mullins of Atascadero, she jumped on him in an attempt to smother the flames.

“She literally tackled him to try to put him out,” Charnley said. “That’s the type of person she is.”

He said his son grabbed a fire extinguisher and sprayed them both, but the damage was severe.

The four victims suffered second- and third-degree burns, with Flaherty and her dad the most critically hurt.

Mullins was airlifted to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center’s burn unit near San Bernardino while the three Flahertys were taken by ambulance to Ridgecrest Regional Hospital. Flaherty was later transferred to the Grossman Burn Center at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, and her husband and son followed a few days later.

On Nov. 28, Mullins underwent surgery and skin grafts, and the three Flahertys had similar operations the next day.

Braiden could be released from the hospital as soon as this weekend, but Flaherty and her husband are expected to have another round of skin grafts on Dec. 2. All are facing a long and painful recovery process.

In a Nov. 30 update on GoFundMe, Flaherty said her family has been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received, and she expressed her gratitude for “all the love and generosity so many communities have shown us!”

“God had his hands on us that day and kept this accident from being much worse,” she said.

Flaherty chairs Lompoc High’s agriculture department and is the school’s FFA chapter adviser. Graham Flaherty is a Mercedes-Benz mechanic at Santa Barbara Auto Group.

Braiden and his brother, Kellon, attend Lompoc High and are on the track and golf teams, and their sister, Ainsley, attends Vandenberg Middle School. Kellon and Ainsley were not hurt in the incident.

“They’re not just people who sit at home,” Charnley said of his lifelong friends, who grew up with him in Atascadero. “They’re very involved in the community.

“Prayers for this wonderful family would be greatly appreciated at this trying time, and any financial contribution would be extremely helpful.”

As of Dec. 2, the GoFundMe account had raised more than $56,000. Click here to make an online donation.

2. Sailor Seriously Injured as Boat Runs Aground in Santa Barbara

Fishing vessel Martha Jane on the shoreline in Santa Barbara.
A sailor who suffered a serious head laceration was taken to the hospital Wednesday evening after his lobster fishing boat, the Martha Jane, ran aground below the Mesa in Santa Barbara. Credit: (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo)

A lobster fisherman alone on his boat suffered a serious head wound when he apparently became trapped on board and unable to control the vessel. The boat eventually ran aground on the beach below Santa Barbara’s Mesa Lane the evening of Nov. 30.

Santa Barbara fire Battalion Chief Jim McCoy told our Tom Bolton that the sailor suffered a serious head laceration, and was taken by an American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

The man’s identity and his medical condition were not available.

A witness who contacted Noozhawk said he found the 30-foot Martha Jane beached in the surf with its propeller still running around 5:40 p.m.

He told Tom the fisherman was trapped in the fish well by a 4-by-4-foot ice box.

McCoy said the Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter had been monitoring the Santa Barbara-based boat before its grounding. He said the vessel and its equipment — including about 100 gallons of diesel fuel — would be salvaged.

3. Driver Critically Injured in Crash at Goleta Supermarket

Pickup truck that slammed into a concrete pillar in front of the Albertsons supermarket in Goleta.
A driver was critically injured Thursday evening when his pickup truck slammed into a concrete pillar in front of the Albertsons supermarket in western Goleta. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

A pickup truck driver was critically injured and his dog was killed when the vehicle slammed into a concrete pillar in front of the Albertsons supermarket in western Goleta on Nov. 24.

Incredibly, no one else was hurt in the 4 p.m. collision at the Plaza Shopping Center at 7127 Hollister Ave.

Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Scott Safechuck told our Tom Bolton that it took firefighters about 15 minutes to extricate the driver from the wrecked Dodge pickup.

The man suffered major injuries in the high-speed collision and was taken by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

The driver’s identity and medical condition were not available. His dog, reportedly a Jack Russell terrier, was killed in the crash.

The Sheriff’s Department is investigating the circumstances of the collision.

4. Multivehicle Crash on Highway 101 in Summerland Sends 1 Person to Hospital with Moderate Injuries

Emergency crews respond to a multi-vehicle crash Saturday evening on northbound Highway 101 south of Sheffield Drive in the Montecito area.
Emergency crews respond to a multi-vehicle crash Saturday evening on northbound Highway 101 south of Sheffield Drive in the Montecito area. The incident reportedly involved seven vehicles and one motorcycle. (Montecito Fire Department photo)

Several cars, an SUV and at least one motorcycle were involved in a collision on Highway 101 in Summerland the evening of Nov. 26.

One person was treated for moderate injuries and transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, according to Montecito firefighters at the scene of the 5:20 p.m. crash on Ortega Hill.

The wreck closed the northbound side of the freeway between Evans Avenue in Summerland and Sheffield Drive in Montecito.

The California Highway Patrol is investigating the circumstances of the crash, which occurred in the construction zone of the Highway 101 widening project.

5. Highway 101’s Cabrillo Boulevard Exits Facing Massive Overhaul

New design for the Cabrillo Boulevard interchange in Santa Barbara.
The left-hand exits on Highway 101 will go away as part of a massive Caltrans reconfiguration of the Cabrillo Boulevard interchange in Santa Barbara. (Rendering courtesy of Caltrans)

The South Coast’s seemingly interminable Highway 101 widening project is inching closer to completion, and maybe I’ll even live to drive it.

As our Josh Molina reported, the last leg of the nearly $1 billion project — stretching 16 miles between Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara County line east of Carpinteria — was presented to the Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review on Nov. 28.

The segment, officially Phase 4E, runs from Sycamore Creek at roughly South Salinas Street in Santa Barbara to Montecito’s Olive Mill Road. It includes new carpool lanes, new entrance and exit ramps at the East Cabrillo Boulevard interchange, a new roundabout near the northbound ramps, a new overpass and extensive landscaping.

Aside from the additional roundabout just down the hill from the Coast Village Road roundabout, the main change will be the removal of the left-hand exit ramps, which have been a source of parochial Montecito controversy and public safety debate for decades.

The City of Santa Barbara is involved because this stretch is entirely within its city limits, as well as in the Caltrans right of way. Phase 4E also carries a $256 million price tag and currently is not funded — which is never an impediment to government spending.

Josh has all the details on the Architectural Board of Review presentation, and Caltrans and its engineering company, San José-based Mark Thomas, will review the suggestions and return for approval. The project also will require a coastal-development permit from the Planning Commission.

A separate but long-overdue project is the replacement of the nearby Union Pacific trestle over Cabrillo Boulevard, but that’s a Noozhawk story for another time.

•        •        •

Good Reads

Here are a half-dozen other stories you should read before you go:

» Mark Patton: Roke Fukumura Marks Major Milestone Just Like Always, with Humility and Humor — A 100th birthday is well worth celebrating, and sports columnist Mark Patton helps local legend Roke Fukumura mark his occasion.

» Therapy Dogs Bring Their Unique Canine Care Back to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital — Staff writer Serena Guentz is on the trail of therapy dogs and their eagerly anticipated return to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

» Santa Barbara County’s AMA Sushi, Peasants FEAST, Bar Le Côte Added to Michelin Guide — Serena knows she can get my attention when she writes about food. But congratulations are in order for three new Santa Barbara County entries in the 2022 Michelin Guide for California, including my friends at peasants FEAST in Solvang, itself an equally prestigious #bestofbillrecommendation.

» Lompoc’s Historic ‘Hi! Let’s Eat’ Sign Lands New Home — I love old school signage so I followed North County editor Janene Scully’s directions to her story on a Lompoc landmark.

» Rincon Point Book Reveals the Rich and Forgotten History of the Iconic Beach — Staff writer Grace Kitayama hits the beach through the pages of a new book about one of the world’s most renowned surfing destinations.

» George Anton Aigner of Santa Barbara, 1941-2022 — George Aigner was an all-around nice guy and longtime employee of the old Jedlicka’s Saddlery in Santa Barbara, where he was known as “The Best Boot Fitter on the West Coast.” Happy trails to him, and prayers for his family.

•        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Landsat 9 Delivers First Images of Earth Weeks After September Launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

•        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

It’s not my taste, but this is one groovy house: Desert Mansion with a Buried Pool, Glass Stargazing Ceilings and $6,500 Airbnb Fee Leaves No Stone Unturned.

•        •        •

Best of Bill’s Instagram

Family, friends, food and foliage in my Instagram feed this past week. Also, @thesantabarbaraclub, #myhomeawayfromhome.

•        •        •

Watch It

Come and get me, copper. HT to Susie Mason.

(KLR Productions video)
A dark-haired man in glasses with a beard and a mustache smiles at the camera

William M. Macfadyen, Noozhawk Publisher

Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com, and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen. The opinions expressed are his own.