A statement from Santa Barbara City College President Andreea Serban confirmed Thursday that nine of the 10 people allegedly responsible for the Tea fire were enrolled at the school.
She was notified yesterday by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department Wednesday, the same day Westmont and UCSB officials were apparently told their students had nothing to do with the case.
“We are deeply saddened by this news and extend our heartfelt sympathies to all members of the community and their families who were affected by this tragedy,” Serban said in a statement. “Our students, as with all college students, have personal lives outside of the college. We acknowledge these boundaries and do not oversee students’ personal activities away from campus.”
Speculation started running wild after Sheriff Bill Brown initially identified the group as local 18 to 22 year olds. Later in the same news conference, he added that the group was affiliated with a school, but he declined to say which one. Because of Westmont’s proximity to the Tea Gardens, many theorized that Westmont students were to blame.
While this most recent revelation answers some questions, ultimately it will be the students, and not the school, who are responsible for the fire and charged with a crime. Because they have not been arrested, the 10 have not been named by law enforcement. The investigating agencies are expected to turn over their reports next week to the District Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether or not to file charges.
Brown announced Tuesday that investigators-acting on an anonymous tip-had determined a group of 10 had visited the Tea Gardens-in the hills above Westmont-the previous night for a bonfire. They left believing they had extinguished the fire, but more than 12 hours later the hot embers were kicked up by fierce sundowner winds. Brown characterized the peoples’ actions were not malicious, but careless.