The remains of a house on Las Alturas. Miraculously, the garage stood intact with a shiny Jaguar visible inside.
Michelle J. Wong

This summer’s Gap Fire was intense to be sure, but if the Red Cross shelter is any indication, the Tea Fire is having an impact upon more peoples’ lives. The shelter’s manager said that 210 people stayed at the shelter – located at San Marcos High School, at the intersection of Hollister Avenue and Turnpike Road – last night, and about 150 were still there at 6:30 this morning. She also said that her staff and volunteers were in the process of boosting the number of beds they have available to deal with an expected rise in the number of evacuees caused by expanding evacuation areas.

Accommodated on cots in the school’s gymnasium, evacuees were also furnished with complementary snacks and beverages. If you’re worried about losing your home in a wildfire, there are probably few things that can placate you, but a cup of hot chocolate certainly doesn’t hurt. The Salvation Army provided breakfast at the shelter this morning. For those concerned about their homes – which was pretty much everyone there – a frequently updated map hung on the wall showing an outline of the burn area. Map and current information were being provided by Montecito Fire Department, which is holding a press conference at 9 a.m.

One woman, who identified herself as Sheila but declined to provide her last name, said that she and her husband checked into the shelter at about midnight. Having been evacuated from their home in Mission Canyon, they had heard a lot of explosions as the fire reached houses with gas lines. Sheila and her husband have lived in Mission Canyon since 1973, so they know the drill when it comes to wildfires. “We had some preparations made, but I found that when the adrenaline’s rushing, you can have a stack by the door and go right over it,” she said. “We definitely left some things behind.” Her twin 18-year-old daughters were in Los Angeles swing dancing when their parents were evacuated, but made it home by 2 a.m. “I knew they were safe in L.A., but I felt physically better when they were with me. I guess it’s a mother thing.” Sheila also had her dogs in the car, not wanting to leave them alone at the Humane Society shelter on Patterson Avenue. She seemed confident that their house had survived the blaze.

One of the many expensive cars torched by the Tea Fire.
Michelle J. Wong

It is as yet unclear how long this batch of evacuees will require housing. A pre-dawn sweep of the most critical areas of the fire – Las Alturas Road, Mountain Drive, and the area in the vicinity of Westmont College – revealed a calm scene, with firefighters engaged in limited containment activities and a lot of resting. Many of the houses on Las Alturas and Mountain Drive had been completely destroyed, and more than a few pricey cars were little more than smoldering wreckage resting upon puddles of melted aluminum alloy. “You can’t see shit, so we just try to come in and make a stand and try to save a few houses,” said Chris Woodcock, a city firefighter who neatly summed up the sentiments of many firefighters asked how the night had gone. The arbitrary nature of wildfire was exhibited everywhere. The all too common scene showed one house standing intact while one of the adjacent ones had been reduced to a pile of embers with a huge plume of flame shooting from a gas leak.


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