As of 8 p.m. on Wednesday night, the Jesusita Fire was blowing east toward Rattlesnake Canyon and the foothills above Montecito. At the same time, evening winds are again pushing it down into San Roque Canyon near the Cater Water Treatment Plant, and it continues a march up the mountains to the ridgeline. As such, much of the mountainside that frames Santa Barbara remains ablaze.
Independent reporter Chris Meagher was up on Las Canoas for the better part of the dusk hours on Wednesday afternoon. Although smoky when he arrived, Meagher said that the fire had already burned through the lower Mission Canyon area. “There were no leaves on the trees at all,” he said. Meagher said that the Botanic Garden had about 13 acres toasted, and a structure across the street from the parking lot was still aflame. Traveling with an L.A. Times reporter, Meagher tried to go up into Mission Canyon, but power lines blocked their path. Around that time a firefighter showed up in a pick-up truck, and while dressing for the fire, noticed a propane tank hissing in a corner. He advised them to leave, and they did.
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Up on Las Canoas Road, where he said it “got hit pretty hard” and saw at least two homes burned, Meagher met one man who saved his home. George Quinn is in his 60s, and was smoking a cigarette and hanging with his little dog Manny after the fire had moved through. He used five garden hoses to protect his home, which also had good clearance and some iceplant protecting it. No big trees were nearby, and up on a nearby hill, another home was still smoldering. Quinn said that the firefighters “wouldn’t do a damn thing,” so he had to defend his home himself. Luckily, said Quinn, he and his wife “built it to be fireproof.”
Further down Las Canoas, Meagher ran into another power line and turned back, but not before four wild turkeys crossed the road in front of him, “gobbling like crazy.”
Meagher also spoke to a firefighter about St. Mary’s Seminary, and was told that it was okay and that many firefighters and engines were on hand to protect it. The same unidentified firefighter told Meagher that the Jesusita Fire was running into the scar of the Tea Fire, and trying to burn the regrowth. But the fire had slowed considerably on that front. He said that while there was some wind noticeable on the tips of trees, there was no wind on the ground, leaving the smoke to hang in the air.
City fire spokesperson John Ahlman spent much of the later part of the afternoon driving around the Foothill Road area, assessing the damage. He had heard of and seen several burned homes, but could not give a definite number, although other firefighters said that there must be at least 20 gone. “There has definitely been houses lost,” he said, “but at first blush I can’t even begin to tell you how many or where. There is no way to pin it down right now.” He explained, “By morning, we’ll know a lot more about what went on in the last few hours.” Ahlman did report that, of the homes he saw, it was very clear which ones were properly prepared for a fire, and which ones were not.
Over at Cottage Hospital, traffic was growing in the afternoon. “The emergency room has been quite busy, but not compromised yet,” said hospital spokesperson Janet O’Neill. Neither O’Neill nor Ahlman would confirm whether the reports of two firefighters being severely burned were true, but both had heard similar reports. If they were injured, however, they were not admitted to Cottage Hospital, said O’Neill. That could mean that the firefighters were sent immediately to a more equipped burn center, if the rumors about severe burns and an airlift out of Mission Canyon prove true.
At the Dos Pueblos High shelter, Independent intern Ryan Neal reports that the Salvation Army has delivered food and supplies, including barbecue and pasta. There were nuns from the Santa Barbara Mission there, and one remarked about the hospitality and overall vibe of evacuation experience by explaining, “It has been a very beautiful experience so far.” However, the gymnasium was getting quite hot, and some folks were choosing to sleep outside. Others were simply using the shelter as a place to get situated, drink some coffee, and make some plans for the rest of the night.
By about 8:45 p.m., the winds seem to be finally dying down, reports Independent correspondent Ray Ford, just down from his second trip to the frontlines today. “All is pretty calm up there right now, but all could be much worse tomorrow,” he said, explaining that, depending on the wind, there are “numerous locations the fire can reach Camino Cielo and then bump down from there to other locations.” Ford continued, “This has the potential to be Santa Barbara’s worst disaster ever if all lines up wrong as it did today.”