Dr. Henning Ansorg
Dr. Henning Ansorg: On second thought. Or is it third? (Santa Barbara County TV screen shot)

Because 2020 hasn’t brought enough disruption and devastation, thick, choking smoke is descending on Santa Barbara County as a reminder that the threat of wildfire is all around us — and ever-present.

So far, we’re just experiencing the effects of very poor air quality from major fires burning at least two counties away, but we all know it’s only a matter of time before that burning smell is much more than an inconvenience.

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According to our Google Analytics, there were 106,545 of you reading Noozhawk this past week. What follows is my recap of your Top 5 stories during the previous seven days. As a reminder, this is my opinion column and not a news story.

1. Santa Barbara County Will Consider K-6 School Reopening Waiver Applications

Local schools may be reopening as “distance learning” hubs in this age of the coronavirus, but some will soon have an opportunity to request a transition to an old-school concept of having students attend class … in classrooms.

As our Giana Magnoli reported Aug. 18, Dr. Henning Ansorg, Santa Barbara County’s public health officer, announced that elementary schools will be able to request a waiver to resume in-person instruction.

That is a reversal for Ansorg, who previously said the county’s high COVID-19 caseload precluded any schools, public or private, from reopening physical classrooms — even with precautions.

Now, after yet another inexplicable “reconciliation” of error-riddled statistics kept by both the county and state public health departments, evidently that’s OK — with precautions.

“Our significant decrease in the transmission rate makes us eligible to accept applications for waivers for elementary schools,” Ansorg told the Board of Supervisors.

State guidelines require schools that want to reopen to submit plans that include rules and protocols for social distancing, handling outbreaks, testing if exposures do occur and criteria for when to close, among other things. District approval would be required, along with evidence that the schools consulted with teachers unions and parent organizations.

Waivers are only available to K-6 schools, whose students are at an age when the effectiveness of online learning is rather suspect, as just about any parent of a K-6 student can attest.

2. Thunderstorms Spark Fires, Cause Power Outages in Northern Santa Barbara County


Electrifying skies over Vandenberg Village. (Stephanie Mapes photo)

Well, at least we aren’t Napa. Yet.

In a preview of a massive series of lightning strikes that has set fire to much of the Napa Valley, a smaller — but still quite large — series of lightning strikes rained down on northern Santa Barbara County on Aug. 15.

As our Janene Scully first reported, then updated throughout the day, the flood of flashes ignited vegetation fires throughout the North County. Almost all were quickly contained with little property damage and no injuries.

That most certainly was a stroke of good fortune as California’s epidemic of August wildfires continues at an alarming pace. As of Aug. 20, there were two dozen major fires burning out of control throughout the state.

Amid insane heat and humidity, and with the coronavirus sidelining a not-insignificant chunk of firefighting resources, local first responders are stretched thin trying to meet any threats at home while providing crucial mutual aid elsewhere.

The causes of the Aug. 15 fires are under investigation, but county Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said the 9-1-1 dispatch center received more than 300 lightning-related reports that morning alone.

In addition to lightning, thunderstorms briefly swept through the county, dropping rain on Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, and triggering flash-flood warnings in the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Cuyama Valley.

Tens of thousands of Pacific Gas & Electric Company customers in the Santa Ynez Valley, Lompoc, Los Alamos and Orcutt areas were without power for much of the day, with many of the outages blamed on lightning strikes on transmission equipment.

The California Independent System Operator, which is responsible for the state’s power grid, declared a Stage 2 electrical emergency due to excessive heat driving up electricity use and straining the grid.

3. Bill Macfadyen: Prince Harry, Meghan Markle Give Montecito a Royal Crush

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry

Montecito’s royals in residence, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, aka Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and their son, Archie. (British Royal Family photo)

Just as I figured, my Best of Bill column about Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, moving to Montecito clicked with our readers. Need I say more?

4. Dos Pueblos Little League, Goleta Community Lose All-Star Volunteer ‘Buddy’ Wolin

Buddy Wolin

Keeping his charges entertained was a signature move of Buddy Wolin as he practiced his ABCs — “Always Be Coaching” — with Dos Pueblos Little League All-Stars. (Donna Demeter photo)

For decades, diehard baseball fan Rick “Buddy” Wolin was an enthusiastic and ubiquitous presence at the Dos Pueblos Little League fields in Goleta.

He volunteered for just about every duty, was an assistant coach and served on the league’s Board of Directors.

But it was his energetic chant — “Eat ’em up, eat ’em up, rah, rah, rah!” — that inspired thousands of young baseball players over the years and was emblematic of his joyful love of the game.

Sadly, as our Barry Punzal reported Aug. 16, Wolin died the week before after a short battle with cancer. He was 70.

Wolin moved to Goleta from Chicago in 1964 to live at Devereux, which provides services and support for adults with disabilities like himself. He found his calling in youth sports, especially baseball.

My friend, Dr. Dan Brennan, a pediatrician and frequent Noozhawk columnist, first met “Coach Buddy” as a kid.

“I vividly remember him when I was a Little Leaguer in the early 1980s,” he told another Noozhawk columnist, Randy Weiss, in 2015. “Now I have the pleasure of knowing him as a fellow coach and board member.”

Jami Brunner Stetler, a former league president and board member, called Wolin “a legend.”

“Buddy’s love of the game and the DPLL kids became one in the same over the 40-plus years relationship,” she said. “He was a legend. He became a good luck charm to many of the All-Star teams …

“His enthusiasm and energy will be greatly missed.”

Gary Coulson coached with Wolin over several seasons, and emphasized how inspiring he was to anyone who crossed a basepath with him.

“They should name the DPLL baseball fields after him,” he said, and I absolutely agree.

Funeral arrangements are pending.


5. BizHawk: Red Pepper Restaurant Reopens in Goleta; Bristol Farms Set to Open in Santa Barbara

Red Pepper restaurant

The Red Pepper is back in business in Old Town Goleta. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

My favorite Chinese restaurant, The Red Pepper in Old Town Goleta, quietly closed its doors last year, so I was pleased to learn from our Josh Molina that it’s since reopened under new ownership.

The restaurant, on the ground floor of a nondescript building at 282 Orange Ave., is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Takeout is probably your best bet until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted as the place only has two outdoor tables for diners.

The old Red Pepper’s menu offered the usual Chinese fare, but there was a uniqueness to the taste that made it a #bestofbillrecommendation. I could never put my finger on it; the food always seemed light, clean and crisp. I’m looking forward to going back.

In other BizHawk news, long-awaited Bristol Farms has opened its gleaming new grocery store at 3855 State St. in Santa Barbara’s La Cumbre Plaza.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Prominent Santa Barbara Couple Believed Killed in Idaho Plane Crash.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Between COVID-19 and thick smoke from wildfires drifting into Santa Barbara County, now’s as good a time as any to get a whiff of this: The History of the Asthma Inhaler.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

My niece, @kellygaylord, and #myfavoritepalmtree get their day in the sun in my Instagram feed this past week.

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Watch It

Wildfire or no wildfire, steer clear of Longhorn Country.

UNEXPECTED GUEST: Ventura County firefighters battling the Lake Fire were caught off guard this afternoon when a longhorn came running down a hill. Luckily nobody was hurt. (Video credit: @VCFD) https://t.co/U03EvR85pE pic.twitter.com/IFki2WIYBu

— CBS Los Angeles (@CBSLA) August 15, 2020

(Ventura County Fire Department video)

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Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
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Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
If you value dependable local reporting, will you support Noozhawk today?
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
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Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!

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

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.