Cave Fire smoke
The 3,126-acre Cave Fire that started Nov. 25, 2019, was human-caused, according to Los Padres National Forest officials. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk file photo)

Coverage of disasters such as the Cave Fire and the Conception dive boat disaster dominated the list of most-read stories on Noozhawk in 2019, as did articles about fatal vehicle crashes and homicides. 

But two pieces of good news were on the list this year, with a Santa Barbara visit for former Monkee Michael Nesmith and a local viewing guide for the spring’s wildflower superbloom. 

The pageviews listed are for a single story, usually the first day of reporting on a major event, but many of the top stories are part of ongoing coverage.

All are pulled directly from Noozhawk’s Google Analytics. 

Below are the 19 most-read stories of 2019. 

1. Acreage Jumps to 4,100 in Wind-Driven Cave Fire in Mountains Above Santa Barbara — Nov. 25

(75,691 Pageviews)

Firefighter hose on Cave Fire flames

A firefighter hoses down flames from the Cave Fire near Santa Barbara on Nov. 25, 2019.  (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk file photo )

The fast-moving Cave Fire started in the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara on the afternoon of Nov. 25, and burned down toward Santa Barbara and Goleta.

Thousands of people were ordered to evacuate as firefighting crews responded to the blaze, which burned mostly in Los Padres National Forest land. 

Fire crews raced up the mountain to battle the blaze and the flames went downhill, burning partly into the footprint of the destructive and deadly 1990 Painted Cave Fire.

No one was injured and no homes were damaged in the Cave Fire, which blackened 3,126 acres before firefighters got a helping hand from the weather, as clouds rained and even snowed on the blaze.

Full containment was delayed by the rain, which made it difficult for crews to access steep and remote sections of the fire’s perimeter. 

Authorities are investigating the cause of the blaze. 

Other heavily-read Cave Fire stories were the compilation of fire-related information including evacuations, and the heightened risk of debris flows and flooding for communities below the fresh burn scar.

2. 4 Deaths Confirmed, 30 Still Missing after Dive Boat Conception Burns, Sinks Off Santa Cruz Island — Sept. 2

(40,977 Pageviews)

Conception dive boat burns near Santa Cruz Island

The Santa Barbara-based Conception dive boat was anchored near Santa Cruz Island when it caught fire and sank on Labor Day, killing 34 people on board. Five crew members managed to escape and reach a nearby vessel. Multiple agencies are investigating the maritime disaster, including the U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board.  (Ventura County Fire Department photo)

In the early morning hours of Labor Day, a Santa Barbara-based commercial dive boat anchored near Santa Cruz Island caught fire and sank. 

The Conception was on the last day of a scuba diving trip at the time of the fire, which killed 33 passengers and a crew member who were in the below-deck bunk area. Five crew members survived.

Portraits of the victims describe a varied group, ranging in age from teens to those in their 60s, who were united in their love of diving. Many were from the Bay Area.

Investigators from multiple agencies are looking into the disaster, which is one of the deadliest maritime incidents in modern California history. 

There was no roving watch at the time of the fire, and surviving crew members told authorities they woke up to discover the galley area of the vessel fully ablaze.

Salvage crews hauled the wreckage of the vessel up from the ocean floor and transported it to a secure location as part of the investigation into the cause of the fire. 

Truth Aquatics, which owned and operated Conception out of Sea Landing at the Santa Barbara Harbor, suspended operations for its other two vessels, the Truth and the Vision, following the fire. 

3. Solvang Woman Identified as Driver Killed in Fiery Highway 154 Crash — Oct. 26 

(34,810 Pageviews)

Vanessa Bley Max Gleason and children

Vanessa Bley and her husband, Max Gleason, with their two children — 2-year-old Lucienne Bley Gleason and 4-month-old Desmond. Bley and the children were killed in a vehicle crash on Highway 154 in October. The driver of the other vehicle has been charged with murder in the case.  (Courtesy photo)

A head-on collision near the Cold Spring Bridge killed three members of a Solvang family on Highway 154, and the crash investigation yielded criminal charges for the driver of the other vehicle.

Rebecca Vanessa Goss Bley, 34, and her two children — 2-year-old Lucienne Bley Gleason and 4-month-old Desmond Bley Gleason — died at the scene

The California Highway Patrol said John Roderick Dungan, 28, of Santa Barbara was driving westbound and crossed the double-yellow lines into opposing traffic “for unknown reasons” and caused the crash. 

Dungan was airlifted to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, according to authorities. 

The CHP later said investigators believe Dungan drove his vehicle into oncoming traffic intentionally, and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office filed three murder charges against him. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

4. Officers Met with Gunfire While Serving Warrants in Neighborhood Near Goleta — May 7

(28,831 Pageviews)

SWAT respond to neighborhood

Police SWAT and crisis negotiators respond to the Positano Apartments at Turnpike Road and Camino De Vida on May 7 to serve search and arrest warrants. Police were met with gunfire and responded, killing the man they were there to serve with warrants, Francisco Anthony Alcaraz Jr. The District Attorney’s Office has determined the officer-involved shooting was justified, but many details of the case, including the warrants themselves, remain sealed.  (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk file photo)

Santa Barbara police officers attempting to serve warrants at an apartment near Goleta were met with gunfire on May 7 and fired back, killing the man they were there to contact. 

Francisco Anthony Alcaraz Jr., 32, died in the officer-involved shooting, which the District Attorney’s Office determined to be a “justifiable homicide.

Alcaraz began shooting at officers as they broke through the front door to the residence at the Positano Apartments at Turnpike Road and Camino De Vida at about 12:45 p.m., according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

Multiple Santa Barbara police officers returned fire, and a large law enforcement response to the scene prompted a lockdown of nearby San Marcos High School. 

Santa Barbara police were serving an arrest warrant on suspicion of attempted murder, but the department has not disclosed any information about the shootings Alcaraz allegedly was involved in since it is considered an ongoing investigation, spokesman Anthony Wagner said at the time of the District Attorney’s report.

5. Woman Killed, Several People Injured in Collision Involving MTD Bus in Downtown Santa Barbara — Oct. 9 

(28,629 Pageviews)

Bus crashes into bench and sidewalk

Santa Barbara woman Eve Debra Johnson was killed and another woman was critically injured after a MTD bus crashed into a downtown bench and sidewalk on Oct. 9.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk file photo)

Authorities declared a multi-casualty incident after a Metropolitan Transit District bus drove onto the sidewalk and into a bench in downtown Santa Barbara. 

Eve Debra Johnson, 67, of Santa Barbara was killed, and 75-year-old Gloria Bravo De Ayala was critically injured in the collision, according to police. 

The crash happened next to the MTD temporary transit center at Chapala and Figueroa streets, and police said there were many witnesses, including bus passengers. 

Police are still investigating the case and no criminal charges have been filed against the bus driver, Aura Mijangos, 60. 

6. Structures Threatened by Wind-Whipped Vegetation Fire Near El Capitan Canyon — Oct. 17

(22,590 Pageviews)

Fire burns near sign for El Capitan Ranch

The Oct. 17 Real Fire burned 420 acres near El Capitan Canyon, causing evacuations of nearby camping and park sites.  (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk file photo)

In October, a vegetation fire burned 420 acres and threatened more than 100 structures in the El Capitán Canyon area along the Gaviota Coast.

Authorities issued evacuation orders for the area, including campgrounds and state parks, and closed Highway 101 in both directions while crews battled the Real Fire.

7. Police Investigating Homicide on Santa Barbara’s Eastside — June 1

(19,882 Pageviews)

Police respond to scene of stabbing on Eastside

Santa Barbara man Alberto Suarez Torres, 29, was fatally stabbed June 1 and six people have been charged in the homicide.  (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk file photo)

Alberto Suarez Torres, a 29-year-old Santa Barbara man, was fatally stabbed on the 1300 block of Cacique Street on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside.

Six people have been criminally charged in the stabbing, and police say the attack may have been gang-related. 

There was another homicide in the same neighborhood that week, and 28-year-old Omar Alberto Leon pleaded not guilty to a murder charge in the death of 29-year-old Lilia Munoz in what authorities allege is a domestic violence case. 

8. 2 Found Dead in Goleta Parking Lot Were Elderly Santa Barbara Couple — June 14

(19,866 Pageviews)

A Coroner’s Bureau investigation determined that an elderly Santa Barbara couple found dead in a parked car in Goleta died by suicide. 

Emergency personnel responded to the parking lot on the 6800 block of Cortona Drive and found 87-year-old Lamont Cochran Jr. and his 80-year-old wife, Susan, in a parked car.

The Sheriff’s Department said at the time that the couple died of carbon monoxide poisoning. 

9. Suspect in Hope Ranch Homicide Shot Dead by Sheriff’s Deputies — Oct. 15

Crime scene tape in Hope Ranch neighborhood after homicides

Crime scene tape blocks the 4100 block of Mariposa Drive in Hope Ranch after Santa Barbara woman Valerie Lundeen Ely, 62, was allegedly killed by her son, 30-year-old Cameron Ely, who was fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies who responded to the scene. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk file photo)

(19,551 Pageviews)

Deputies responded to a “family disturbance” at a Hope Ranch residence and found Valerie Lundeen Ely, 62, deceased with multiple stab wounds, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Authorities said deputies searched the property for the homicide suspect — her son, 30-year-old Cameron Ely. He was found on the property and was fatally shot by four deputies in what sheriff’s officials said was a confrontation outside the house.

Lundeen Ely was the wife of actor Ron Ely, 81, who is known for portraying Tarzan on the 1960s television series.  The couple owns the home on the 4100 block of Mariposa Drive where the homicide occurred. 

10. Jeff Moehlis: No More Monkee Business for Michael Nesmith and First National Band — Sept. 28

(19,538 Pageviews)

Michael Nesmith and The First National Band

Michael Nesmith and The First National Band performed in Santa Barbara in early October, including Circe Link (backing vocals), Christian Nesmith (lead guitar), Alex Jules (keyboards), Jason Chesney (bass), Michael Nesmith, Amy Spear (backing vocals), Jonathan Nesmith (rhythm guitar), Christopher Allis (drums) and Pete Finney (pedal steel guitar). (Contributed photo)

Michael Nesmith, best known for his time in The Monkees, and The First National Band performed at the Lobero Theatre in October.

Before the show, Nesmith described his upcoming performance, and career in music and the film industry.

“One of the reasons that I made this music was because when I grew up I was listening to music that was popular music — popular on the radio in Texas,” Nesmith told Jeff Moehlis in the interview.

“There were a lot of people that didn’t like the country element that was in the music in Texas during the time I was growing up.”

11. Body Found on Santa Barbara Beach Was Surfer, Commercial Fisherman Chris Brown — Jan. 21

Chris Brown

Chris Brown (Shaun Tomson photo via Twitter)

(18,506 Pageviews)

Fisherman and surfer Chris Brown, 48, was found dead on Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara after a fall from the nearby cliff, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

Hundreds of community members turned out for a memorial service and paddle-out to honor his memory.

12. Flash Flood Warning Issued, Highway 101 Closed as Heavy Rains Drench South Coast — Feb. 2

(17,989 Pageviews)

Tow truck helps car stuck in water

A tow truck was called in to rescue a stranded car at Los Olivos and Chapala streets in Santa Barbara after a strong February storm.  (Diego Topete / Noozhawk file photo)

Rains moved through the Santa Barbara County South Coast in early February, triggering weather and emergency officials to issue a Flash Flood Warning for communities near the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier fire burn areas.

Highways 101 and 150 were closed, and emergency crews were kept busy rescuing stranded cars and clearing downed trees. 

13. Motorcyclist Killed in Crash on Fairview Avenue in Goleta — Feb. 6

(17,869 Pageviews) 

Motorcyclist Ulises Carrillo, 25, of Goleta died of his injuries after a vehicle crash on Fairview Avenue in Goleta. He collided with a SUV, according to the Sheriff’s Department. 

The driver of the other vehicle was not injured and was not cited in the collision. 

14. Where to Find Wildflowers in Santa Barbara County as ‘Super Bloom’ Hits California — March 19

(17,737 Pageviews)

wildflowers near road sign

Wildflowers cover the hillside near the Santa Ynez Valley roundabout at Highways 246 and 154 in March.  (Mike Eliason photo)

Beautiful wildflowers blossomed across Southern California during the ‘super bloom,’ and there were plenty of places to find colorful hillsides in Santa Barbara County. 

15. C-130 Aircraft Crashes, Catches Fire at Santa Barbara Airport — Aug. 25

(17,516 Pageviews)

Crashed airplane at Santa Barbara Airport

The wreckage of C-130 aircraft that crashed at Santa Barbara Airport in August sits in a grassy area near the runway. No one was injured in the crash, which INVESTIGATION INFO (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk file photo)

A private C-130 aircraft developed problems shortly after takeoff from Santa Maria, and crashed while attempting to make an emergency landing at the Santa Barbara Airport.

The plane was damaged and caught fire after the crash, but all seven people on board were uninjured.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board determined the failure of an engine air duct forced the crash landing.

16. Stricken Swimmer Dies After Being Pulled from Ocean in Santa Barbara — March 31

(16,361 Pageviews)

Marcie Kjoller

Marcie Kjoller

Emergency personnel attempted to revive a woman who was pulled from the water in distress at East Beach in Santa Barbara, but Marcie Fuller Kjoller, 50, was declared dead at the scene.

Kjoller was a former All-American collegiate swimmer, triathlete and local teacher.

“My mom will forever be my inspiration and role model,” Kjoller’s daughter, Alanna, said at a celebration of life and paddle-out event a week later.

“My mom was a cheerleader at heart … My mom poured every ounce of herself into what she cared about.”

17. Vegetation Fire Blackens 200 Acres East of Highway 101 in Buellton Area — Sept. 9

(15,720 Pageviews)

tanker drops retardant on Buellton wildfire

A BAe-146 aerial tanker makes a retardant drop on the McMurray Fire burning northeast of Buellton in early September.  (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

A vegetation fire burning northeast of Buellton prompted authorities to close a stretch of northbound Highway 101 for several hours and order evacuations.

Hundreds of firefighters responded to the 200-acre McMurray Fire in the early days, as well as water-dropping helicopters and tankers. 

Livestock and residents were evacuated in ranch areas northeast of Buellton during the first day of the fire, but no structures were damaged or destroyed, according to officials. 

Although investigators have not determined a cause, on Sept. 9, the California Highway Patrol‘s dispatch log indicated a malfunctioning car traveling on the highway might have sparked the blaze. 

18. Evacuations Ordered as Another Strong Storm Targets Santa Barbara County — Jan. 14

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Several thousand residents were affected by a January evacuation order for communities at risk of debris flows below the Sherpa, Whittier and Thomas fire burn areas.

In anticipation of the storm, Santa Barbara South Coast fire departments staffed extra personnel as well. 

The resulting storm delivered less rain than expected, and no major problems were reported. 

19. Physician Arrested on Attempted-Murder Charges in Goleta Attack — Dec. 11

(15,028 Pageviews)

A San Jose woman is suspected of attempting to kidnap her 12-year-old son and kill a court-appointed observer during a custody visit in the Goleta parking lot of Zodo’s Bowling and Beyond at 5925 Calle Real on Dec. 8. 

Theresa Colosi

Theresa Colosi

Theresa Lynn Colosi, 55, an orthopedic surgeon who practices in the Bay Area, has been charged with attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, attempted kidnapping, attempted child stealing, and disobeying a domestic-violence court order, according to the District Attorney’s Office. 

“During the visitation, Colosi began to act suspicious while walking with her son, which caught the victim’s attention,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Raquel Zick said. “Colosi then swung a metal object at the victim, hitting her in the head several times.”

The observer told the boy to run into Zodo’s for help, and Colosi then ran to her vehicle and fled the area, according to Zick. 

Authorities later identified Cindy Hann as the court-appointed observer who was attacked with a metal compressed gas canister. 

Investigators discovered that Colosi had chartered a private jet from Lompoc to Glacier International Airport in Montana and had withdrawn $900,000 from her bank account, Zick said. 

Authorities also connected her to a residence in Whitefish, Montana, and she was arrested by local law enforcement and extradited to Santa Barbara County.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.