Like many people, you may have asked yourself, “If I only had a few minutes to evacuate, what would I take with me?” Luckily, I had a chance to find out. On June 10, I was awakened at 1 a.m. by the sound of a police officer banging on my front door. I groggily stumbled to the door, and he told me that there was a fire burning in the open space close to my house; I would need to evacuate. When I looked over his shoulder, I saw flames limning the vegetation beneath the trees close to my house.
I grabbed my kids, bird, and dog in less than five minutes and headed to my car. I managed to put on some shoes and a jacket, but that was all. I drove down to the end of my street where the police officer had told me to wait and parked. After a few moments, I looked around and realized that I didn’t have my iPhone or computer. I thought about going back, but I couldn’t really make myself care.
When I ran back down the street to find out what was happening, the fire had been put out, and we were free to come back. However, the experience definitely made me look at a few things differently. First of all, I look at the dry brush outside my house with a wary eye, knowing how quickly everything can go up in smoke. Secondly, I recognize the importance of creating some sort of evacuation plan, with a list of what you take in the event of an emergency. Sitting in my car, I realized I didn’t have food, medicine, water, or any other essential.
And last but not least, I realized that there needs to be more of a push to educate Isla Vista residents about potential fire dangers.
Dry Brush Is Fire Fodder: Even though I’ve lived in I.V. for a while without experiencing any type of wildfire, the danger has always been lurking in the background. Homeless people periodically camp out in the open spaces. Once, when I went for a walk I saw a man cooking some food over an open fire. There were other people in the area as well, and he put out his fire quickly, but the idea was disconcerting that he might not be the only one to come up with the idea of lighting a fire to cook or keep warm.
Students regularly set couches, beds, or whatever else they can find on fire as part of the annual move out experience. While it might seem like harmless, drunken fun, this behavior is nerve-wracking for residents with a lot to lose. But this isn’t the only fire fun students regularly engage in. Quite often students have bonfires in which they set off fireworks or dump fuel to create enormous flames.
Another type of fire hazard occurs during the Fourth of July weekend. I.V. residents set off fireworks before, after, and on Independence Day. Each time I hear the boom of fireworks, I cringe, wondering if and when one of them will land in dry brush and set off a chain reaction that could affect the whole area.
It Could Happen: Just because I.V. hasn’t had a major fire doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I remember walking out to the Camino Corto Open Space during the 2008 Gap Fire in Goleta and hoping that the flames wouldn’t come any closer. While the vegetation fire on June 10 only burned a quarter of an acre, this should be a wake-up call. Open flame in the open spaces has the potential to bring disaster.