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Alisal Fire evacuation centers give evacuees place to "catch their breath"

A smoke cloud rises from the Alisal Fire Tuesday afternoon.
Rachel Showalter
A smoke cloud rises from the Alisal Fire Tuesday afternoon.

The Alisal Fire burning in Santa Barbara Canyon has burned 8,000 acres, closed down parts of Highway 101 and prompted evacuation orders.

The fire sparked Monday in the Santa Ynez Mountains and spread quickly due to high winds. Evacuations were ordered for the areas of Arroyo Hondo, Tajiguas and Arroyo Quemada as well as El Capitan State Park and the El Capitan campground.

An evacuation warning is in place for El Capitan north of the campground and east to Dos Pueblos Canyon.

Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta was used last night as an emergency evacuation center for those in need of shelter.

“Basically what we were seeing was mainly people that were evacuating from the campgrounds and then some from the ranches. And then we got a call last night that the Amtrak couldn’t make it through and they had nowhere to send their passengers. So we got 14 Amtrak passengers last night," said Jessica Hodge with the American Red Cross in Santa Barbara.

The nonprofit is supporting the evacuation shelter, mostly with volunteers. Hodge said they fed and housed 18 evacuees overnight.

“We will be on standby for as long as the fire is still active and as long as there’s further evacuations. And it will totally depend on the weather and what the needs are," Hodge said.

Hodge said the shelter is a place for evacuees to catch their breath. And that’s exactly what it was for Stefanie Alboff, her wife Stacey and their son Nash.

“We’ve been camping down at Refugio since Thursday. And then yesterday it started getting a little bit too windy to hang out at the beach so at about 2 o’clock, we drove into Santa Barbara to take Nash to a playground," Alboff said.

Alboff said they went out for dinner and when they tried to get back to their trailer, officials turned them away. Their campground was in the evacuation zone. So they went to a hotel for the night.

“By the time we were checking in we kind of realized, ‘Oh, this is a lot bigger than we thought.’ We turned on the news and realized how huge it was and that it was kinda centered right around our campground that was totally fine when we had left a few hours earlier," Alboff said.

Their family came to the evacuation center the next day to get information. They said it’s been stressful, but they feel fortunate to be safe.

Alboff and her family have friends who almost lost a home in the Dixie Fire. They watched as the Caldor Fire burned near their own home in Sacramento. She said it is unfortunately becoming normal to explain this sort of thing to her young son.

“It’s just nuts. He’s grown up like this fire is just a normal thing for him. This is different than the California I grew up in for sure," Alboff said.

Alboff was expecting to be escorted by officials to pick up their trailer Tuesday afternoon.

Down the road at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, the Santa Barbara Equine Assistance and Evacuation Team is helping to care for horses and other livestock who were evacuated from the fire.

Horses evacuated to Earl Warren Showgrounds amid Amisal Fire
Rachel Showalter
Horses evacuated to Earl Warren Showgrounds amid Amisal Fire

Tammy Thompson has been volunteering for the evacuation team since the 90s, helping out during emergencies.

“We’ve had peacocks. We’ve had goats, cows. We have Noah’s Arc," Thompson said.

Thompson said they took in around 1,300 horses during the Thomas Fire. As of Tuesday morning, the livestock center was caring for 37 horses and one goat. But Thompson said they have the capacity for 500 horses right now.

Grace Reilly slept at Earl Warren overnight after evacuating her horse Punchy and dozens of others horses yesterday from Circle Bar B. It’s a dude ranch that Reilly lives at on Refugio Road in Goleta where people can take horseback rides into the mountains.

Grace Reilly evacuated her horse Punchy to the Earl Warren Showgrounds Monday evening
Rachel Showalter
Grace Reilly evacuated her horse Punchy to the Earl Warren Showgrounds Monday evening

Reilly just moved here from Massachusetts. This is her first fire.

“It was pretty immediate that we started getting the horses out of there. We started loading them on the trailer, as many as we could get on there safely, and getting them out," Reilly said.

Reilly said a number of locals came to help evacuate the horses. It still took hours to get them all out, but she said she’s grateful because things could have been worse.

“I remember a few years ago watching videos of people — their barns were on fire — and they were just running and opening stall doors, just letting their horses loose because that’s their best chance. It makes me emotional thinking about having to do that," Reilly said.

The Dos Pueblos High School shelter and Earl Warren livestock evacuation center remain open for evacuees.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Alisal Fire was zero percent contained. No structures had burned and no injuries had been reported.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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