Residents Inspect Damage After Devastating Fire
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) _ Neighbors along Via Las Padres consoled one another and surveyed the embers and ash that remained of their homes Thursday after fire swept down from the mountains and burned everything in its path.
″It was a beautiful neighborhood,″ Eric Lim said, as the remains of his house steamed behind him. ″It was a great place to grow up.″
The 4,000-acre brushfire that started Wednesday night cut a vicious swath through the suburban foothills of this coastal city, leveling entire neighborhoods.
Few areas were harder hit than Park Highlands, a tightly knit enclave of $750,000 homes about 5 miles northwest of the city, with dramatic views of the coast below. Eighteen of 19 homes on one block of Via Las Padres were wholly consumed by flames.
Lawns burned as though made of straw, and shrubbery and trees, parched from a 4-year-long drought, ignited like matches. The intense heat left a pool slide in one yard melted on its frame like a giant marshmallow.
″The fire is incredible. It came down from the mountains. It spread everywhere. It burned everything in its path,″ said Tim Grasey, spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
The fire destroyed 567 homes and other buildings in Santa Barbara County; county supervisor Bill Wallace said the homes alone were worth $190 million. Ninety-one homes were ravaged elsewhere in the region.
″I started reading the paper after I came home from work and then my 12- year-old said, ’Daddy, the back yard is on fire,‴ said Bryan Gaggs, whose home was untouched while those of two of his nearest neighbors were gutted.
The Lims lost their home of 14 years, salvaging only a few personal effects and their cats. Across the street the Harveys stirred the ashes of what was once their dream home, filled with antiques and personal mementos.
″I can’t find anything, there’s nothing,″ Nancy Harvey said as she picked through what was once her kitchen. ″I’m hoping to find my address book.″
Her daughter, Tiffany, poked around the spot in the living room where the family’s television set had stood. ″I’m looking from my necklace,″ she told her mother. ″I left it here last night.″
Don Anderson, who lives next to the Lims, said he stayed on his roof with a hose in hand until the heat and smoke became intolerable.
″I stood up there and for a while I though we were going to be OK, that we would be at the bottom of the fire and that it would miss us,″ he said.
″And then it suddenly got very smoky and I yelled back to the Lims ‘Can you see the flames?’ When he said ‘Yes’ I knew it was time to go.″
Anderson’s home was leveled. The skeletal remains of a Jacuzzi tub were the only signs of a recent $250,000 remodeling job.
″I think the water shortage definitely contributed to this fire,″ said Dale Hanst, whose house survived. ″If people had been able to water their foliage, a lot of the homes would have been saved.″
While some families wept hopelessly over their losses, others kept their sense of humor.
Nancy Harvey said she was confident that valuables in the family safe were unharmed. ″But I had the combination for it written in the bottom of my desk drawer,″ she said with a laugh.