A year ago last night, Montecito was crushed. The community had lost loved ones, friends, neighbors, pets, and homes. Last night, on the one-year anniversary of the deadly debris flow, Montecito showed it had not lost hope. More than a thousand people of all ages filled Lower Manning Park for “Raising Our Light,” a candlelit vigil and procession to remember the 23 Montecito residents — children, siblings, spouses, grandparents — taken by the natural disaster. The event also honored what’s happened since that heartbreaking morning: valiant search and rescue, dedicated recovery and cleanup, and the growth of a very strong thread of common decency as strangers have stepped up to help strangers to heal.
Volunteers had already handed out the entire supply of 1,000 flameless candles by 6:30 p.m. as Montecito Union School Superintendent Anthony Ranii made opening remarks. He was followed by Rev. Aimee Eyer-Delevett of All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, which had spontaneously transformed into a shelter and triage center on the morning of last year’s catastrophe. Montecito resident Brian McWilliams, headmaster of Santa Barbara Middle School, had the honor of introducing Lauren Cantin, who was 14 at the time of her nationally televised rescue from beneath a hellish pile of mud and wreckage. McWilliams said that Cantin had taught him about courage, beauty, and grit. As Cantin sang “Amazing Grace,” her captivated audience weathered upwellings of grief with a sense of peace gifted by her voice.
Four candles were lit — for love, peace, memories, and hope — and Carie Baker-Corey, who lost a 12-year-old daughter, Sawyer, and a 25-year-old step-daughter, Morgan, read a poem about fire written by Sawyer a month before the Thomas Fire scorched Montecito’s mountain front, setting the stage for the 1/9 Debris Flow.
After a choir of Montecito schoolchildren sang “This Little Light of Mine” and Suzanne Grimmesey, head of Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness, read a poem by Jan Richardson called “Blessing for the Longest Night,” the procession spilled onto San Ysidro Road.
Hundreds made the one-mile walk to All Saints. There, the church bell sounded 23 times. Inside, we prayed and listened to music. Outside, we talked and enjoyed hot cups of lentil soup.