Latest news from Montecito Fire that has consumed 111 homes. My goodness, that certainly could mess up one Saturday golf game at the country club..
Montecito fire consumes 111 homes
Toll could rise. Schwarzenegger declares a state of emergency, and local groups are pitching in to assist evacuees. Calming winds give firefighters a break.
By Louis Sahagun, Steve Chawkins and Mitchell Landsberg
November 15, 2008
Reporting from Los Angeles and Montecito -- As a wildfire that devastated the wealthy enclave of Montecito settled down late Friday, a second blaze erupted in Sylmar amid heavy winds and destroyed at least three structures and scorched 100 acres, authorities said.
The Montecito blaze destroyed 111 residences and damaged nine near Santa Barbara before flame-stoking winds died down and the fire stabilized. However, authorities cautioned that the totals could go higher; 1,500 homes were still threatened, and the fire was not contained. Flames had consumed 1,800 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Photos: Tea fire in Montecito Map of the fires in MontecitoFire chars Montecito, Santa Barbara
How Santa Ana winds contribute to fires
Montecito fire: What about the celebrities?
Meanwhile, in Sylmar, heavy Santa Ana winds stoked a fire in the hills above Veterans Memorial Park that began around 10:30 p.m., officials said. Winds quickly pushed the fire toward a line of nearby homes, burning at least three structures by midnight and threatening many more, authorities said.
The Los Angeles City Fire Department -- which had sent strike teams to fight the fire in Montecito on Thursday night -- sent 100 firefighters to the Sylmar blaze. Additional crews from Angeles National Forest joined them.
It promised to be a difficult battle, as Santa Ana winds up to 70 mph are forecast through today, with a red-flag warning in effect for canyons and valleys in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Firefighters offer tips on preparing for wildfires
L.A., Ventura counties warned about wildfire threat
Blog: Flames rode 'Sundowner' winds into Montecito
2007 Southern California wildfires Further north, the Montecito fire was smaller than many of the wildfires that have ravaged Southern California in recent years, but its speed and ferocity exacted a huge toll in property damage and left residents stunned. After breaking out at 6 p.m. Thursday, the fire raced unchecked through the populated slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains, exacerbated by 70 mph winds, combustible brush and narrow roads that became clogged with incoming fire crews and outgoing evacuees.
"This thing came on so fast, you just couldn't believe it," actor and homeowner Rob Lowe said Friday. "Embers were raining down, they were in our hair, they were in our shirts. . . . It was absolutely Armageddon."
Another resident said he was awed by the fire's destructive force.
"We watched probably about $60 million" worth of houses "just burning out on Mountain Valley, a real posh area," said Paul Morison, who defended and saved his own home in the Riviera area of Montecito. "This morning they're gone. . . . The big house we used to look at, probably over 10,000 square feet, there's nothing."
Morison estimated that 50 houses had burned around his. He and two friends had defied the flames with garden hoses until 3:30 a.m. Friday.
Among the celebrities with homes in the area are Lowe, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Douglas. Lowe and Winfrey, talking by phone on Winfrey's television show Friday, said their homes escaped damage. An estate owned by actor Christopher Lloyd and valued last year at $11.3 million sustained major damage, however. Lloyd was filming in Vancouver, but his caretaker "fled for his life," said Lisa Loiacono of Sotheby's International Realty.
A 98-year-old man who was evacuated to a hotel died, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown. He said the man had multiple medical problems and his death was being treated as "potentially a fatality related to the fire."
Seven people suffered burns, Santa Barbara County Fire Chief John Scherrei said. Two were taken to a burn center in Sherman Oaks, and five had lesser injuries, he said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County.
The wind tapered to near calm Friday, providing firefighters with conditions that were much better than forecast. Predictions called for warm, dry weather but relatively mild winds in the Santa Barbara area this weekend. About 5,500 people remained displaced, according to Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, and firefighters were taking no chances.
"It's still very unstable, and we're not by any means ready for people to get back into their homes," said Santa Barbara Deputy Police Chief Richard Glaus.
As is often the case with Southern California wildfires, the wind caused the fire to hopscotch in places, sparing some homes while igniting others. Some homeowners enhanced their luck through foresight or sheer grit.
When Maurizio Barattucci pulled up Friday morning to the Santa Barbara home he had evacuated the night before, he saw the following scene: To the left, six houses burned to the ground. To the right, four more. In all, 15 homes in his immediate neighborhood were destroyed.
In front of him, still standing, was his house, covered in ash. Water was running everywhere. Barattucci, 69, and his wife Rochelle Barattucci, 70, had left their old-fashioned yard sprinkler running when they evacuated Thursday evening. The pipes had melted during the fire, but the sprinkler had done its job. The sprinkler system had come with the 1924 house on Camino Alto, and it had saved them once before, in the Coyote fire of 1977.
"We were actually the only ones on the street that survived that fire, and it just happened again," Barattucci said.
Ironic, isn't it? Seem my hunch was right. It really was a Montecito Whitetrash Barbeque.
Bonfire built by students caused Montecito fire, sheriff says
The suspects say they thought the fire had gone out when they left the ridge-top site Thursday morning. The D.A.'s office will decide if they will be charged with any crimes.
By Catherine Saillant and Jean Merl
November 19, 2008
Reporting from Los Angeles and Montecito -- A smoldering bonfire built by students on a ridge-top overlooking Montecito apparently sparked last week's disastrous Tea fire, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Tuesday.
Ten men and women, ranging in age from 18 to 22, had gathered at an abandoned property called the Teahouse late Wednesday night and built a bonfire to warm themselves, Brown said.
Special Report: The cost of wildfires Photos: Orange County firesWildfires: Did low water pressure hinder the fight?
Photos and video: Southland fires
They told fire investigators that they thought the bonfire was out when they left early Thursday morning. But embers continued to smolder for more than 12 hours and were reignited by Santa Ana-type winds that evening, authorities said.
In what became one of Santa Barbara County's most destructive wildfires, fast-moving flames destroyed 210 homes and damaged nine others. At least 25 people were injured, three of them with burns.
Brown told a news conference that investigators believe that the group did not intend to start a wildfire.
Triangle Complex fire progression
View larger map
Sylmar | O.C. | Santa Barbara footprint, damage | Region
Your Scene: Submit your photos
Twitter: Live feed | Hour by hour
» L.A. Now: Dispatches from Times staffers
» LAFD Blog: News and information
» O.C. Fire Authority: News and information"It appears this was the result of carelessness," he said.
Brown declined to identify any of the men and women involved, saying that the matter was still under investigation. However, he said they all lived locally and attended the same school. He declined to say which one.
Westmont College, a Christian university with 1,200 students, sits immediately below the mountain ridge where the Teahouse is located. But Brown would not confirm or deny that students from the private campus were involved.
The group could face charges of negligence or recklessness with fire, he said. It will be up to the district attorney's office to decide what, if any, criminal charges will be filed once the investigation is completed, Brown said.
Investigators learned about the group's late-night outing from an anonymous tipster who called a fire hotline, Brown said. Each person was then contacted and questioned about the night's activities, he said.
"They have been cooperative," Brown said.
Nancy Phinney, a Westmont spokeswoman, said the college did not think that any of its students were involved. The school lost several buildings and 14 faculty homes in the fire.
"We have been working closely and cooperating fully with fire officials and at no point has anyone said that any of our students have been implicated," Phinney said.
Asked whether the Teahouse property was a student hangout, she said that dating back to at least the 1960s, "Westmont students have known that area. . . . It's very near our campus."
Other colleges in the area include the Brooks Institute and UC Santa Barbara.
News about the fire's cause spread rapidly in Montecito and Santa Barbara. Jack Milton, who lost the ocean-view home he had lived in for more than three decades and all of his belongings, said he was angered to learn about the group's apparent carelessness.
"I hope they press charges to deter anyone else from doing something so stupid," Milton said. "Anyone with fire up in those hills is just ignorant."
The Tea fire is hardly the first caused by partyers. Authorities charged five men who started an illegal campfire in a cave in Malibu's Corral Canyon with sparking a November 2007 blaze that razed 53 homes, 35 outbuildings, 37 vehicles and one mobile home.
Residents later sued the state, contending that officials had failed to heed warnings from neighbors about late-night parties and campers causing fire hazards in the area.
In recent years, authorities have stepped up prosecutions of people who caused wildfires, even if they did so accidentally.
On Monday, a mentally ill homeless man was sentenced to 45 months in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $100 million in restitution for starting wildfires in 2002 and 2006 that burned more than 162,000 acres in the Los Padres National Forest. Steven Emory Butcher, 50, had been convicted in February of igniting at his campsite the monthlong Day fire that injured 18 people and destroyed 11 structures. He also was convicted of starting the Ellis fire four years earlier.
Last year, two laborers repairing a broken water pipe on a Santa Ynez ranch sparked the Zaca fire, one of the largest in California history. It burned 375 square miles of wilderness in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and cost $118 million. The men, Santiago Iniguez Cervantes and Jose Jesus Cabrera, were charged with felonies, although a judge recently threw out the most serious charges.
Fire experts noted last year that arsonists were responsible for only 7% of wildfires.
Most were set accidentally, including by power tools close to dry brush, burning trash, untended campfires and downed power lines. Lightning strikes accounted for about 5% of wildfires, authorities said.
People lose their homes and you refer to them as white trash.
You really do need to seek help.
What built their homes? Where did they get the money? What did they have to do? Who did they have to screw? Who did they have to lie to? What business are they in? Who do they work for? What are they but a bunch of overrated, overpaid, inflated, intellectual whores? who spiritually and psychologically murder people every day in a silent war? to desolate their minds through the dezert sands of time and lead them off the precipace of hell.