My family and I and all our animal friends are so grateful to the firefighters, Highway Patrol officers, and County Animal Services people for their help during the Thomas Fire and the ensuing mudslides. We live in the mandatory evacuation zone and have too many animals to safely move them all. They live in large natural habitats and thankfully were not touched by the fire or the flood.

Feeding them and cleaning their water was critical to their survival during the 30 days we were evacuated. Captain Cindy Pontes of the CaliforniaHighway Patrol heard my story at the beginning of the fire and escorted me home to feed everyone. Thank you very much, Cindy.

Kerry Kellogg of the Montecito Fire Department escorted me in every second day after that during the fire and at the beginning of the mudslide evacuation. Kerry always answered his phone when I called, and I knew I could count on him and the Montecito Fire Department. Thank you, thank you, Kerry and the Montecito Fire Department.

Kerry drove me in two days after the mudslides; the only way to get back to my house was in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The devastation we drove through was shocking. I cried when I saw that our home and my 500 birds, 60 turtles, and pond full of koi were okay and then got to work. I knew there was no running water, so Kerry helped me bring in six five-gallon bottles of water I had purchased for the animals. It worked!

When conditions became passable for regular trucks and vans, Kerry put me in touch with Jennifer Adame and the wonderful people at County Animal Services. People came from all over the country to volunteer to help the animals stranded or misplaced by this disaster. The sheer number of critters they rescued and saved is heartwarming … from cats and dogs to lizards, birds, and donkeys and everything in between. Tim Collins and his crew from the Humane Society rescued many hundreds of animals, including a canary stranded in a home high up on Bella Vista and two feral cats.

My husband and I are still shell-shocked, as many of us are. The rain of ash and fear from the 12-day march of the fire in the mountains behind us was exhausting. But thanks to the valiant efforts of the 8,500 firefighters and first responders, just a few homes were lost and tragically the life of one firefighter. We got to come home for Christmas on December 21; we had been evacuated since December 10.

Then on January 8 we were mandatorily evacuated again; heavy rains were expected that night. We have lived here for 45 years and never been evacuated for rain before. I couldn’t imagine what was about to hit. We went to our daughter’s home near Montecito Union School as she was in a voluntary evacuation zone, and we felt safe there.

I awoke around 3 a.m. to the heaviest rain I have ever experienced. It felt like we were in the eye of a tornado and hurricane combined with lightning bolts that lit the sky. Turned out that some of that was electrical transformers being toppled. Then I heard the rumble of crashing boulders and mud coming down Hot Springs Creek. It was the most bone chilling ominous sound I have ever heard. As I turned around, the sky lit up as if it were morning, then turned blood red.

By then everyone in the house was up and terrified. Thank heavens we stayed at the house instead of trying to flee down Hot Springs Road. We caravanned out of Montecito late that afternoon after our daughter, a medical doctor, and her 14-year-old son had spent the day at All Saints church helping. We were led by the Highway Patrol down Hot Springs Road and passed Olive Mill. It will be difficult to get over the shock of what we saw. Utility poles snapped like matchsticks, boulders the size of trucks, and mud with pieces of homes visible. It was unrecognizable.

As I came in every other day to feed and water my animals, I was amazed by how quickly the first responders came together to search and rescue and then clean up the mountains of mud, boulders, and debris. I saw a boat and a car shoved by the force of the mudslide through the chain-link fence off North Jameson by the 101 freeway. It was all pretty surreal.

We were allowed to finally come home January 26 to dig out and begin to put our lives back together. I am so grateful to have a home to come home to … many we know do not. I am so grateful to Kerry, Cindy, Jen, and Tim for their help saving the animals. As the hundreds of dump trucks go up and down our road cleaning out the debris basin above us, I am grateful to our county and everyone who has been there for us during this traumatic time.

And right before we came home, one of nature’s miracles showed up. Six golden baby chicks hatched. Their mother laid the eggs during the fire and never gave up. They hatched three days before we got home after the flood. Life goes on.

Carolee Krieger


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