Yeah, this could have been far worse. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

Happy Independence Day! If you’re Greek, go ahead and drop the “In.”

There were 94,896 people who read​ Noozhawk this past week. Here are your top stories:

1. Burton Mesa Fire Near Lompoc Held to 320 Acres

A brush fire that ignited near La Purisima Mission State Historic Park the afternoon of June 29 quickly grew to 320 acres before favorable weather conditions helped firefighters gain control.

The wildfire was fueled by heavy brush and oak forest in the Burton Mesa Ecological Preserve, roughly four miles northeast of Lompoc.

Of course, given California’s chronic drought and the fact that it’s summer, the entire state is a tinderbox waiting for a match.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. In spite of persistent speculation, authorities say fireworks do not appear to be to blame.

Anyone with information about the blaze is asked to call the Santa Barbara County Fire Department tip line at 805.686.5074.

Although as many as 1,200 structures were threatened in the vicinity of Cebada Canyon, none was burned. And within about 36 hours of the fire’s start, all evacuations had been lifted and roads were reopened.

One firefighter was hospitalized with a leg injury, according to fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni.​

At the blaze’s peak, about 600 firefighters were involved in the battle. Initial firefighting costs were north of $650,000, Zaniboni told our Janene Scully.

Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.

2. Woman’s Lost Wedding Ring Found on UCSB Campus​

We know Noozhawk readers are the best. Now, a Half Moon Bay woman knows it, too.

A lost-and-found ring sparkles brightest. (Applewhite family photo)

A lost-and-found ring sparkles brightest. (Applewhite family photo)

Juliette Applewhite was in town a couple of weeks ago for her daughter’s graduation from UC Santa Barbara. Somewhere during her visit, she lost her wedding ring.

Despondent, she contacted Noozhawk for help. News editor Giana Magnoli proposed an article to our reporters, and Gina Potthoff said “I do.” Her actual words were “I’ll do it,” but I’m telling the story.

On June 24, we posted Gina’s report about the missing white gold band lined with diamonds and sapphires, the ring Applewhite’s husband proposed to her with 30 years ago.

Almost immediately, several of our readers contacted Applewhite and volunteered to help with her search from here.

Two days later, however, she got a call she never really expected to receive.

On the phone was Cara O’Callaghan, a UCSB Recreation Center employee who had read Gina’s story and then happened upon the ring in a campus parking lot.

“She’s amazing,” Applewhite told Gina. “She’s my new best friend.”

O’Callaghan refused the $5,000 reward that had been posted.

“She didn’t want the money,” an incredulous Applewhite said. “She even offered to ship it.”​

Applewhite said she would do something special for O’Callaghan regardless.

And so will Noozhawk: Cara, when you read this, please email me at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com so we can treat you to dinner.

Thank you for making Santa Barbara — and Noozhawk readers — look good.

Bad Fortune, meet Good Fortune. (Jon Shafer photo)

Bad Fortune, meet Good Fortune. (Jon Shafer photo)

3. Driver Hits Fire Engine After Suffering Heart Attack Near La Cumbre Plaza

A Santa Barbara motorist tooling around in his Porsche convertible took a turn for the worse the morning of June 27, plowing his car into a Santa Barbara County fire truck. The collision may have saved his life.

According to Santa Barbara Fire Battalion Chief Mike De Ponce, the Porsche driver apparently suffered a heart attack as he was turning west onto State Street from northbound Hope Avenue near La Cumbre Plaza.

The man passed out and his car drove head-on into a sedan waiting to turn north onto Hope from eastbound State, then hit the fire truck, which also was waiting at the light.

Fortunately for the driver, the fire truck was loaded with people trained for just such emergencies. They sprang into action.

After the county firefighters stabilized him, the man was taken by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. His identity and details about his condition were not disclosed.

There were no other injuries in the crash, which is under investigation by Santa Barbara police.

Attention, shoppers: These are bad eggs. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

Attention, shoppers: These are bad eggs. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

4. Public’s Help Sought Identifying Theft Suspects Who Targeted, Distracted Elderly Victims

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department is warning that brazen grifters are driving local shoppers to distraction. So let you buyers beware.

According to sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover, Ralphs grocery store surveillance video shows two suspects entering the market at 5170 Hollister Ave. in Goleta’s​ Magnolia Shopping Center, on the afternoon of June 22.

Once inside, she said, they trolled the aisles until they made their mark, a 77-year-old woman whose purse was sitting on top of her shopping cart. As one of the suspects, both women, engaged the shopper in conversation, her companion lifted her wallet from the purse, Hoover said.

Two miles away and 20 minutes later, Hoover said, a third suspect was caught on video at Walgreens, 5900 Calle Real, using the victim’s credit card. She said the woman was able to buy a $500 gift card and some other items before a second similar purchase was declined.

All three suspects got away.

An additional investigation is under way in two separate distraction cases, both involving a Hispanic man who allegedly stole purses after using a water bottle ruse to distract his victims — both women, one 82 and the other 78.

Authorities are investigating the crimes of burglary, grand theft person, conspiracy and credit card fraud. Anyone with information is asked to call detectives at 805.681.4101​.​

Live Más, pero ​todavía no. (VMI Architecture rendering)

Live Más, pero ​todavía no. (VMI Architecture rendering)

5. Taco Bell Runs Into Goleta Challenge as Design Board Puts Off Approval of New Plan

The Taco Bell at 140 N. Fairview Ave. in Goleta is about as nondescript a building as I can come up with. I know this because, as often as I’ve driven up and down the street, I’ve never noticed it. I guess I always look west.

Apparently I’m not the only one.

“If you took away the Taco Bell sign you probably wouldn’t even know it was a Taco Bell,” admitted Hugh Murphy, president, CEO and principal architect of VMI Architecture in San Rafael.

Oh, wait. He’s actually talking about the rendering of the new Taco Bell building planned for the site. Now I’m even more confused.

Apparently I’m not the only one.

As our Josh Molina first reported, the property owner wants to demolish the current building and replace it with a taller, bulkier structure on a slightly smaller footprint.

The parking lot also would be reconfigured to move away from the angled spaces that give the appearance of a one-way entrance instead of an entrance and an exit. 

The proposal failed to impress the city’s Design Review Committee, however. With committee chairman Carl Schneider abstaining, the six other panel members voted to postpone for a month.

“As a whole, I am not a big fan of the architecture,” Schneider said. “I am certainly not against tearing the existing one down and rebuilding it.”

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week, from my peripatetic tour of the World Wide Web: When Was the Fourth of July First Celebrated? Not a trick question.​

                                                                 •        •        •

Earlier this week, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Brian Hill sentenced Duanying Chen, 20, of Santa Barbara, in a heinous case of felony animal cruelty and human assault.

Over the objections of the District Attorney’s Office, which argued for … actual punishment, Hill sent the smug sadist off to the county kennel for only 365 days — just about the least he could do that didn’t involve a pat on the head, a belly rub and some scratching behind Chen’s ears.

I share the revulsion that many of you have.

Chen’s four-legged victim, a defenseless, 5-month-old Doberman pinscher puppy that suffered unimaginable torture, could not be saved and had to be euthanized.

Occasionally, however, acts of such depravity don’t end so tragically. HT to my friend, Deborah Barnes, for sharing this timely video. Tissues recommended.

(Hope for Paws video)

                                                                  •        •        •

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

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.