MONTECITO, Calif. — It’s been three years since Montecito residents woke up to a massive mudslide.
Not only did the devastating debris flow damage and destroy hundreds of homes but tragically, 23 lives were lost.
The mudslide was triggered after heavy rain hit the Thomas Fire burn scar, just weeks after the fire broke out.
Officials say the rainfall on that fateful night was 18 times more than necessary to cause a debris flow on the burned hillsides.
“I jumped out of bed, I looked out the window and there was this huge pulsing red light in the sky,” Bucket Brigade co-founder Abe Powell said. “It looked like the almighty had turned on a siren for all to see and I heard the sound of boulders.”
Tonight a small ceremony took place at the Montecito Fire Protection District.
In consideration of Santa Barbara County’s stay-at-home orders, a team of community partners connected with a livestream event.
“We’ve been having an incredibly difficult year,” Powell said. “That doesn’t take away from the real difficulties, pain and experiences that people had in 2018 and are still having today.”
Montecito Fire Protection District Chief Kevin Taylor held a prayer before his fellow firefighters lit 23 candles in honor of the 23 victims.
“This is the next best thing,” Taylor said. “I certainly can feel all the community members together tonight even though they’re not here in-person.”
Nearby churches and schools followed this up by ringing 23 bells.
“In a resilient community you don’t let things prevent you from doing what’s right,” Taylor said.
At the end of the service, a searchlight was lit at Montecito Union School as a symbol of support and solidarity.
Kami Morton-Smith and her family came to campus to look at the light.
“I think it’s beautiful way to remind everyone what happened,” Morton-Smith said.
Even though though these survivors may not have been together in-person, this annual event bonded them together safely in spirit.
“Together we are stronger, we’re an incredibly strong community,” Taylor concluded. “We need to continue to remember and honor those that we lost.”