Roughly 150 people attended the Tea Fire Community Forum in Montecito on Monday evening. It was residents’ opportunity to hear firsthand from Montecito Fire, law enforcement, and the Montecito Water District just how close to disaster the hurricane-force winds and low humidity pushed fire resources unequal to the rapidly spreading conflagration.
Despite the Fire District’s meticulous rundown of resources deployed – including about 800 midnight sorties by water-dropping helicopters from Los Angeles City and County Fire – residents stood up most often to recite Reverse 911’s failings, saying they first heard of the fire from friends phoning. Lt. Eric Koopmans of the Sheriff’s Department replied that neighbors needed to notify each other, that fire and smoke affected power lines, and that Reverse 911 could not call *82-blocked phones. But Koopmans also said that Reverse 911 notified 193 households above and below Mountain Drive within 13 minutes of the first calls about the fire at 6:23 p.m. Other frustrations expressed were the lack of knowledge about those who started the fire – the D.A. has yet to file charges or reveal the individuals’ names, said Lt. Koopmans – and traffic problems that night ranging from lookie-loos driving into the fire area to whether or not the gates on lower Sycamore Canyon Road were open. Fire District records show the gates open shortly after 6 p.m., contrary to much hearsay.