Hold Your Kids Tight

By Montecito Journal   |   January 25, 2018

We are sending this email to all our friends and family who have reached out to us in regard to the Montecito fire and mudslide tragedies and evacuations.

The story begins over a month ago, when Lynda and I were forced to evacuate our Romero Canyon home due to the largest wildfire in California history. Three hours after arriving home from a Christmas party, we received the call at 2:30 am and began packing a few odds and ends. We got on the road at 5:30 am and left town for a one- or two-day hiatus in San Luis Obispo. By the time we stopped for breakfast in Santa Maria, it became apparent that the wildfires were rapidly approaching our home and that it was a much bigger deal than we anticipated. So, we decided to continue on to Tahoe, where we remained during the two-week evacuation.

Once the evacuation was lifted, we remained in Tahoe for the previously planned Christmas holidays with family. We headed back home on January 6. As it turned out, the fire came within a quarter-mile of our house. We expect the fire would have destroyed it, had not the much-anticipated northeast winds unexpectedly calmed.

After being back for approximately a week, our home was once again placed under mandatory evacuation for possible mudslides. We (in particular, Patrick) did not take the warning seriously and, after a bit of discussion, finally decided to evacuate to another part of town (Picacho Lane), even though it too was within the mandatory evacuation area. The next morning, at 4 am, we awoke to an orange glow filling the sky for more than 30 minutes (gas main explosion to the east) and the sound of an ongoing muffled rumbling, only one block to the west.

In the morning, there was no electricity; we were essentially unaware of the tragedy around us and we took the dogs for a walk in the rain. Only after seeing a neighbor who gave us a few hints of the tragedy, did Lynda and I decide to load the dogs in the car and go find breakfast and coffee. One block later, we found ourselves in a war zone; houses on both sides of the street were gone and every telephone pole for a mile was broken in two. The smell of natural gas permeated the air. We spent the next six hours either walking through disaster areas or trying to leave the area in our 4X4 Toyota Tundra. There was no escape, and, believe me, we tried. Eventually, we loaded our golden retrievers, Troy and Jax, onto military transports and headed to Santa Barbara proper.

Once we arrived in Santa Barbara, it was as if nothing had ever happened. We booked a hotel room in a largely vacant hotel; by day three, the same hotel was 100 percent full with evacuees. The day after arriving, it became apparent to us that rentals were going to be an issue. We immediately rented a house in Carpinteria. We also rented one of the few remaining cars in the Santa Barbara area. During our first day as “refugees,” we spent the day buying clothes and toiletries.

We have now received area video footage that clearly shows the six-house cul-de-sac on which we live, in the Romero Canyon area. One house is completely gone. One house, to the immediate north, was taken off its foundation and crushed on its north end. Two houses were filled with mud to the windowsills or worse; they have been marked as “destroyed” by SB County. One house has major damage. Only our home appears to have suffered no damage whatsoever, largely because the two houses to the immediate north took the direct impact of the mudflow. Our adjacent neighbor, Joe (Joseph Francis Bleckel), died in his home that night. (Mudflow mechanics: The creek that runs thru our rear property became clogged, just above Joe’s property. Instead of the mud being directed to our property by way of the creek, the mudflow “jumped the creek,” demolishing the two homes to the north, killing Joe and effectively blocking our structure from natural disaster.)

Life is random. We have no idea why we have been so blessed or why Joe was the one who lost his life that night.

Lynda and I have now settled down in our rental home for a month in the Carpinteria area. In order to get to the rental, we had to drive six hours, the long way around, to arrive in an area that is typically 15 minutes away. Our church home is located here. As for Montecito, neighbors that we know or have worked with have died, others have lost family members; many have lost their homes. Some of those losing their homes, I anticipate, will have land that may never be built on again. Of less importance than human tragedy is the tragedy to the landscape of Montecito, which is forever changed. Over 100 years of carefully groomed landscape and specimen trees have disappeared overnight. The wealth of many has all but evaporated.

Obviously, Northern California, Houston, Florida, and the Caribbean have all suffered similar tragedy. It’s just so surreal when it actually happens, and when we are the subject of the random acts of nature. All that being said, we are so fortunate to live in this country and to have the community safety nets that we do. Regardless of the situation, it never really seems to compare to the daily tragedies that take place in countries like Sudan or Iraq. But, when people suffer, this observation seems to offer very little solace.

As for the immediate future, I expect Montecito will be evacuated each and every time that any significant rainfall is expected this winter. I’m certain there will be further tragedy in Montecito through the winter, all because the fires denuded the vegetation in the mountains above.

Regardless, Lynda and I are absolutely fine in every way. But, please pray for the folks in Montecito, be gentle on yourself, and hug your kids.

Life is short. 

God bless you,

Patrick and Lynda Saville

A Lost Trail

We hiked the Hot Springs Trail on Saturday, January 6, and were spellbound by the desolation caused by the fire. It was a blue-sky day, and it was difficult to discern the trail location because the brush, bushes, and trees were burned off. We are very familiar with the area, as we had hiked it many times. As a historical piece, we share these photographs taken on this day. Later photos can compare these photos to the storm results. We suspect the trail will be lost.

Barry Jones
Juliet Tibma
Santa Barbara

No Weed at Red Cross

Listening to morning local news, I learned that the Red Cross was closing an emergency shelter at 6 this morning displacing – again – 30 to 40 disaster evacuees.

Apparently, as reported by an older female evacuee, closure relates to marijuana smoking rights: some insist on their legal right to smoke marijuana at shelter and law enforcement got involved. Rather than allow it, the Red Cross decided to close the shelter, putting 30 to 40 mandatory evacuees outside early in the morning.

Who’s in charge of Montecito? City evacuees? Who in Montecito coordinates with mayor (Cathy) Murillo and representative (Kristen) Sneddon?

Where’s Monique Limon, Salud Carbajal, Das Williams on this one — other than on a boat ride during Coast Village Road merchant meeting and on Ellen (DeGeneres)’s TV show? It’s time to wake them up.

Again, who is in charge of Montecito? This emergency requires federal, state, and local resolution and a point person. There is no leadership in Montecito beyond fire chief Chip Hickman within his limited jurisdiction.

We are observing first-hand the possible end of Red Cross shelters in California if the right to smoke marijuana, or drink alcohol for that matter, is the issue. This is wrong for the victims: elders, children, workers staying there to save a 4.5-hour to 9-hour daily drive to and from work. For starters, we need to keep shelter open.

Then bring in the Army Corps of Engineers to replace Caltrans; if we did that to re-open 101, they’d have a third lane up and running in a short time. In the absence of a Montecito accountable point person, Montecito’s recovery and the disappearance of the County’s tax base will be the next disasters. It’s time for others beyond the Montecito Journal to give locals facts and in-depth news. Our world is upside-down. We’ve been patient long enough.

Denice S. Adams

(Editor’s note: The Montecito Association is as close to a governing body that Montecito has, and we believe they and MA president Charlene Nagel have been doing a pretty good job of informing the public, as have both Bob Ludwick and Sharon Byrne of the Coast Village Association. – J.B.)

The Enemy is Us

I would like to suggest a different spin on terrorism as written by Ray Winn (Ray’s Ramblings, MJ #24/2). As a child, I remember the most evil terrorists depicted in movies were red-skinned Indians. They were subdued, usually with bullets by brave white cowboys. I wonder what God or religion justified and promoted the slaughter of the indigenous populations of North America? Hint, it wasn’t Islam. I also wonder what American religion justified the torture, displacement, and slaughter of civilians in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria?

What American religious leaders besides Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Quakers have spoken against these wars?

I believe that demonizing and attacking any religious, social, or political movement makes them stronger. Early Christianity is a perfect example. How about Islam today? Maybe if the U.S. followed the teachings of Christ, we might create less terror around the world.

Bill Palmisano
Santa Barbara

Lawsuits a-Comin’

Well, while the mud is still being removed, already a Montecito couple has hired a local law firm to start suing. It is like shaking one’s fist at the sky. Except, this kind of mentality can tear a community apart. This couple lost no lives but suffered material loss and apparently believe someone must pay them because wind blew into utility transformers, water mains broke, and debris clogged catch basins.

No one saw this generational event coming or could have predicted or prevented the torrential downpour in the hills or their impact. It is such a rare cataclysmic event that people will be studying it for years. However, the last thing this community needs is to start pointing fingers to blame others, as if mere mortals could have stopped such a monumental disaster. On top of this, the couple’s lawyers are holding a meeting at a local hotel and inviting and hoping for others to come and join the lawsuit too. How shameful and disgraceful to take such a tragedy as this and turn it into a lawsuit.

J.W. Burk
Santa Barbara

(Editor’s note: Well, somebody has to pay for all the damage done; no doubt the lawyers who do get involved will experience a healthy payday, but if they help to make most people whole, we’ll probably have to hold our collective noses and accept what positive consequences may evolve too. – J.B.)

The Beautiful SY Ranch

For days now, I’ve been seeing horrible photos of Montecito. Here’s one from San Ysidro Ranch in 1988. Things change; we are lucky to be alive to see it.

Dan Seibert
Santa Barbara

(Editor’s note: My guess is that one day in the not-too-distant future, we’ll see sights like this again at San Ysidro Ranch and all over Montecito. – J.B.)

The San Ysidro Ranch circa 1988

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