No lives were lost and even though an official number is not out, eyewitnesses count more than a dozen homes or ranch structures that were leveled by a fast moving, wind driven fire in the Goleta foothills Friday, with temperatures around 100 degrees.
While the hillsides were smoldering today residents recalled the explosive scene and hearing the Sheriff’s department on the car speakers saying, “load up your dogs and children, you need to evacuate.” Transformers were also blowing and the flashes lit up the night sky. Horse owner Jessica Brown said, “It was horrible, horrible. It brings tears to my eyes.” She says, the fire threat has always been real. “There’s several eucalyptus trees and it hasn’t burned in years. There’s a lot of brush on the ground so it ignited and it took off up the canyon.” Brown was in the area of Franklin ranch where many homes and horses are located. She said to get out with her horse trailer loaded with three of the four horses she had at the ranch, she had to go through the actively burning fire. “We were driving through a wall of flames.There were embers heading into the neighborhood off La Goleta. There were cars everywhere .” Brown spent the day with her four horses including Princess , the last one out. She was calming and comforting to them. They were with about 200 horses evacuated safely at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. It was coordinated by the Equine Evac group. Members have years of planning and past evacuations to use to handle these situations. The quick decision to leave has now been viewed as life saving. Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Eric Peterson said “there would have very likely have been fatalities with that rapid moving flame front.” Peterson also said the fire crews locally and those that come in from another locations to assist, were familiar with each other after many other fires they have gone through together. He described them as “battle hardened,” and said they were the best in the country at fires where urban and wildland concerns are so closely connected.
The evacuation area was tightened up today to a location basically in the footprint of the fire above Cathedral Oaks Road along North Fairview. About 600 residents are impacted. Everyone else of the estimated 2500 evacuees were allowed back into their home at 5 p.m. Sheriff Bill Brown said, “I am pleased to report there are no fatalities, as a result of this fire. There are no serious injuries and we have had no missing persons. ( UPDATE ) Some residents in the area are reporting the deaths of pets including one rabbit, some chickens, and birds. Many are still working their way back into the area and as they arrive they are able to update the status of their pets. Even with multiple structures gone, new state money has made it possible to fund fire crews to be pre-positioned when dangerous fire conditions exist, as they did Friday night. Prior to the fire, the forecast called for excessive heat, low humidity, and strong off shore winds. This was the first time the newly created fire fund was used. It contains $25 million for the state’s mutual aid to coordinate responses in a rapid wy and have some engines located in key areas likely to have a wildland fire. “That takes the ability to hire people, the ability to train them the personnel the equipment necessary to come in and proactively put out a fire before it expands,” said State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. The cause of the fire is still unknown. The first 911 calls reported a structure fire, but also arching power lines, lines down and a vegetation fire all in the area.
(This story was updated with new information on July 8.)