Wildfire, evacuations and Thanksgiving preparations in Santa Barabara

Nov 29, 2019

All evacuations have been lifted in Santa Barbara County even as firefighters—and the rain—continue to work on putting out the Cave Fire, which started Monday in the Los Padres National Forest. What began as a small brush fire has now burned thousands of acres, and forced thousands of people to flee from areas of Santa Barbara and Goleta. But for many in the community, the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday were just part of the California new normal.

Shopping carts were loaded up with Thanksgiving groceries Teuday at the Gelson’s Market in Santa Barbara. The weather was crip and the sun out, although shining through a haze of acrid smoke and ash raining from the sky. Many people wore face masks, like the employee helping Jan Roberta put groceries in her car.

“It’s almost like routine now, we’ve been through so many of these,” Roberta said.

Roberta didn’t have to have to evacuate this time, but she has several times in the past.

“Since we’ve done it before, we’re kind of prepared.” Roberta said. “Life goes on.”

For roughly a decade now, the county as a whole has averaged just about one destructive fire per year. Roger Swenson and his wife evacuated Monday night and were now living out of their camper van.

“We are well prepared,” Swenson said. “We had everything designated and knew where it was and it was quick to get out. We had special identification tapes on things that needed to be grabbed quickly.”

As emergency officials noted Tuesday, many are becoming quite efficient at being prepared for even the unpredictable.

“Shifty winds; it’s going to be shifty tonight,” said Santa Barbara County Fire Department’s Josh Cazier to hundreds of firefighters Tuesday morning. “Last night on the fire, you could drive a quarter-mile up the road and have downslope winds; you drive another quarter-mile and [the winds] run upslope."

As firefighters from all over California prepared to ascend the mountain, packets were handed out, and plans of defense and attack established.

“Let me know if you guys need anything, I can order it for you,” Eric Vendries with the U.S. Forest Service said.

Vendries was in charge of the Los Angeles and Orange County battalions, assigned to the most populated section of the Cave Fire.

“Structure protection [is the] priority,” Vendries said. “I think we have most of the homes. We have a common goal: put the fire out, make sure no structures burn and make sure no one gets hurt.”

What many people didn’t appear to be was panicked; many said they were worried, but remained calm. John Koons was walking back into the evacuation zone Monday night and taking his dog, a Border Collie/Bassett House mix afflicated with cancer, to the vet.

“I took him down there and they took him immediately because he needs fresh air; he doesn't need the ash and the wind and all that stuff,’ Koons said. “And they were amazing. Everyone comes together. It’s just a shame it takes something like this to make us all come together.”

How all things come together after the Cave Fire remains to be seen. More rain in the weekend forecast is raising concerns about how a winter storm will affect six months of bone-dry mountains, now with a burn scar now slashed right through.