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Local documentaries debut commemorating anniversary of Montecito mudslides

Two local documentaries debuted Wednesday, commemorating the one year anniversary of the Montecito mudslide on January 9, 2018.

‘REMEMBERING JANUARY 9, 2018: Their Words, Their Photos,’ is filled with first-hand testimonials by firefighters and first responders, and actual 911 calls fielded by local dispatch operators.

“We have a river flowing down San Ysidro Rd. Completely un-passable,” a first responder relayed to the emergency dispatch center.

A melodic riff bridges throughout, under images of handwritten tributes posted on a community Healing Wall.

“They’re beyond heroes. It’s another category,” said Phyllis de Picciotto who co-produced the video with her husband and former Santa Barbara County District Attorney, Stan Roden.

“They provided us images from their cell phones,” Roden said. “Not just the fire department but first, second, third responders. We asked them to write their stories.”

That included the highly emotional and dramatic rescue of teen Lauren Cantin, captured on camera.

“She was free and able to climb out with help. And I was able to keep my promise to her that we would get her out,” recalled firefighter Andy Rupp.

‘REMEMBERING JANUARY 9, 2018: Their Words, Their Photos,’ was created at the request of leaders with the Montecito Fire Department in an effort to help employees deal with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) linked to the 2018 disaster.

“They wanted this film orginally to fund what’s going to be needed down the line,” de Picciotto said.

A second and longer documentary titled, ‘January 9, 2018,’ gives an intimate account from four survivors in areas hardest hit during the 1/9 debris flow.

The nearly 22 minute long documentary is the work of veteran journalist Melinda Burns and former TV Santa Barbara Executive Director, Hap Freund.

“At some point I felt that words on the printed page can’t convey the destructive power of what happened,” Burns said.

“I think that’s what really made it successful was the warmth and candor and honesty of the people willing to talk to us,” Freund said.

The video is a timeline of the devastation unleashed on Montecito, one year ago.

“It looked like it was 40 feet high. I thought I was dead,” Mark Karpeles said as he described the wall of mud rushing toward his home under an orange glow that morning.

“I see both our vehicles float past the window. At that moment I knew something terrible was going to happen,” said a tearful Lalo Barajas.

He lost his partner, Peter Fleurat, in the disaster.

“Someone was calling for help 1/4 mile away toward Glenn Oaks. I prayed for that person,” said Curtis Skene.

Skene had lived throughout similar disasters on a smaller scale, growing up there in his childhood home.

“We’ve just got to survive one more second,” Marco Farrell remembered thinking at the time. “If I can survive, that means my folks are alive for one more second.”

Burns spent months researching historic archives and newspaper headlines, coming across proof that similar disasters had struck before, often in the same areas: Spanishtown in 1914; East Valley Road near Glenn Oaks in 1926, 1964 and 1969.

Together with Feund’s producing and editing experience, the two created a powerful testimonial to the destructive potential of Mother Nature.

“It’s so heartbreaking that people lost their lives in this disaster,” Burns said. “It didn’t have to happen. We have to get smarter about these events because they will happen again.”

Click here to view the documentaries in their entirety: and

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s department also produced a video about the mudslides which can be found here.

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