Evacuee: Stephanie Yelenik, UCSB botanist
Stephanie Yelenik, a UCSB PhD candidate who lives on Kinevan Road, was on Santa Cruz Island conducting one of her regular studies of the native flora when she first saw smoke on the horizon. “I checked my phone, which I don’t usually do out there, and saw that I had a message from a friend,” she said. “That’s when I realized there was a fire.” It didn’t take long for her to learn that the fire was very close to her house, so she contacted her neighbors and instructed them to grab the essentials: a surfboard, a computer, her passport, and some clothes.
Ben Colman and Corinne Williams, UCSB grad students who live on the ocean at the end of Del Playa Drive in Isla Vista, were more than happy to accommodate their friend. “I could tell she was upset when I talked to her, and could hear her crying,” Williams said. Yelenik had received offers of places to stay from about 10 other people, but preferred Colman and Williams’s cramped seaside apartment to her own room in an empty apartment. “I wanted to be around people, not sitting in an apartment by myself thinking about my stuff burning up. Besides,” she said with a grin, “this place is right next to my favorite surf spot.” -Ben Preston
For more evacuee coverage, see independent.com/evacuees.
Evacuee: Bob Muhr, UCSB employee
Bob Muhr, a retired physical services employee at UCSB, was well prepared when he evacuated his home on Camino Cerralvo. He and his wife had just returned from a vacation visiting relatives in Seal Beach, so their car was already packed. “We had plenty of time, so we started by putting papers and documents in the car,” he said. “Then, there was still plenty of room, so we began throwing in anything that looked useful.”
They were evacuated by the National Guard on Friday evening. “Leaving the neighborhood, there was a lot of traffic,” he said. “It was every man for himself. Now that I’m sure I haven’t lost my house, this is an interesting thing to look at.”
Muhr said that his stay at the Red Cross shelter was comfortable, and that it enabled him to get to his part-time jobs at UCSB’s Hazmat center and Path Point, a residential living center for disabled adults. “[The shelter] is well staffed and extremely organized. The fire chief and [Goleta Mayor Michael Bennett] even came down to make people feel better.” -Ben Preston
Evacuee: Patricia Rapose, employee of Sansum Clinic
In any emergency, peoples’ pets are often chief among their concerns. This was certainly the case for Patrice Rapose, a medical coder at Sansum Clinic in Goleta, whose house on Camino Rio Verde was evacuated on Friday night. Just after the evacuation order was issued, she left her house with a friend to purchase a flashlight, wasn’t able to find one, and then wasn’t allowed back into her neighborhood to get her car and two cats. “I had a minor breakdown in the car when I wasn’t able to get my cats,” she said.
The Humane Society had volunteers working around the clock to help care for people’s small pets, and one of them actually went past the police barricade to get Rapose’s from her house. Seeing that her cats were scared, Rapose slept outside with them, as did many other pet owners. All of the cages were lined up in front of the library under an overhang, with peoples’ cots next to them. “On Friday night, there were about 12 people out here sleeping with their pets. It was a little cold out, so I had seven blankets,” she said. Having been in the shelter for a few days, she was very grateful for the support she received, but ready to go home nonetheless. -Ben Preston
Evacuee: Kathleen Zaratzian, Independent intern and student at UC Berkeley
The clearing skies of the last couple days have been welcome relief for evacuated residents who, like me, have been allowed to return home. Remnants of the Gap Fire still loom, however-helicopters patrol, ash and blistered leaves blow around our yard and inside our house, and things are disheveled from frantically packing for the evacuation.
Our evacuation was fortunate-my family was able to stay together with our dog and we were relatively comfortable. However, the stress and exhaustion of the ordeal was one of the most physically and emotionally draining experiences I have ever had.
It is overwhelming to describe what it was to think it may be the last time I’d ever be standing inside my house. It isn’t about “the stuff”-even the most valuable and irreplaceable things are merely things. It’s the awful feeling of displacement and losing your sense of home that makes it hard to leave. Still, when it came down to it, gathering a few things was extremely challenging. Touching the ivory keys on my piano, I nearly cried realizing that what I wanted most to save was impossible to take with me.
When I went to work last Thursday afternoon, it seemed impossible that the fire would spread closer to my house and I was feeling good. Then the evening’s power outages occurred and I began to worry. I called home to check in, the tone in my dad’s voice unnerving as he attempted to disguise his panic with calm composure. I was too far away to help-all I could do was wait. Wait for updates, wait for electricity, wait to go home.
Sunday, my first day back in my house, about half a dozen people gathered at the tops of Camino Manadero and Camino Meleno, the same spot we had all looked out over immediately before the evacuation orders. Looking at the incredible amount of burned land immediately behind our homes, we all were saying to each other how amazing this is and how lucky are we. -Kathleen Zaratzian
For an extended version of this story, see independent.com/evac-zaratzian.
Evacuee: Abe Peck, longtime professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism
Suzanne and I had been having dinner last Thursday evening when the lights finally died. We were in our “dream house,” the one we’d bought in 2001 and moved into exactly one month ago. We’d nested after extensive renovation, doing all the little things you do to make a place yours-the anal stuff of alphabetizing books by author, noting when the hummingbirds found the feeder. When I flew back to the Chicago area for my last graduation as a professor, the going-away salutations were tearful but I’d already moved West in my head.
The street looked like Pompeii. The car was ash-laden, the sun blood-orange. Fire-tourists were snapping cell-phone pictures of the flames up on the ridgeline, but word was spreading among the neighbors even before the Reverse 911 call came.
We’d begun talking about what to take with us over dinner: Two file boxes of deeds and mortgages and three garbage bags of other documents-check. Computers-check. Jewelry-check. One suitcase full of clothes-check. One photo, of us and our sons from a wondrous family photo-safari to Kenya-check. Checkbooks-well, check. Dog-arf.
One question remained: Where were we going? Our realtor-turned-friend called to offer her condo. A second call yielded the empty house of close friends who were in San Francisco. Another friend cranked open a powerless gate, and we had shelter from the crackling storm. Offers of places to stay kept coming. From a distant cousin we hadn’t even seen yet, in Ojai. From a writer friend. From the editor of this paper, a buddy from back in our days at Rolling Stone.
So far, we have been discomforted rather than injured or permanently evicted. Glued to TV, computer screen, and CrackBerry, we also feel growing community with the 100 people sleeping at San Marcos High, with the perhaps 1,000 firefighters and rescue workers up on that ridge, even with the cops who saved us from ourselves by keeping us down the hill.
We are dispossessed. But we are home. -Abe Peck
For the extended version of this story, see independent.com/evac-peck.