Friday, May 8, 2009

The Fire in Santa Barbara

Normally, our wildfire season happens in the fall, when the hot Santa Ana winds roar off of the high desert. Normally.

Only nothing is normal this year. 30,000 people are under evacuation from Santa Barbara, and we aren't just talking about the wealthy horse properties up the hill. We're talking the heart of the old city (see map). The evacuation area includes the historic Santa Barbara Mission, called the Queen of the Missions. It's not exactly easy to get to Santa Barbara, which perches right against the mountains. And there's nothing behind the city but the sea.

Those of us who have lived through wild fires know the horror of the blood-red sky, the ash like snow covering all the surfaces, the eye-watering, throat-searing, acrid taste of smoke that you can't escape. So do what you do, people, for the firefighters and residents and all the people in Santa Barbara. Because it doesn't much matter whether you are a conservative or a liberal, straight or gay, when the flames of hell come roaring down the hill.


dr.primrose said...

Keep in your prayers the Holy Cross brothers in Santa Barbara. Their monastary (Mt. Calvary) was destroyed last November during the so-called Tea Fire. You can see before and after pictures here. They moved to St. Mary's Convent, which is immediately north of the Santa Barbara Mission. They were evacuated out of there a couple of days ago. This has been a horrible six months for these guys.

dr.primrose said...

Since I posted the previous comment, I've learned that the brothers are currently located in the homes of some Episcopalians in Santa Barbara and are safe and sound under the circumstances.

Brian R said...

Thinking and praying from another area of the world that experiences wildfires

dr.primrose said...

The Diocese of Los Angeles has just issued the following press release:

Santa Barbara fires rage: Episcopalians among those evacuated

Fire truck at the ready in St. Mary's driveway

By Pat McCaughan

(The Episocpal News, Los Angeles) -- Thick smoke and ash rained down for a fourth straight day as firefighters battled a five-mile wall of flames along the Santa Ynez Mountains near Santa Barbara, estimated to have destroyed 3,500 acres and at least 75 homes and displaced about 30,000 people, including some local Episcopalians.

Among those evacuated because of the Jesuscita wildfire were monks from the former Mt. Calvary Retreat House and Monastery, decimated in last November's Tea wildfire, said the Rev. Nicholas Radelmiller, monastery prior.

"It's traumatic, and we're tired of this," said Radelmiller, noting that the scenic coastal area had experienced its third devastating wildfire within 18 months. "I'm at the beach right now and everywhere I've been today, all over the city, there is a lot of smoke and ash falling. It's not the healthiest of situations."

Despite frustration over not being able to get an Internet connection, he said the monks "are comfortable and safe and I'm told there's a fire truck parked in the driveway at St. Mary's," the retreat house run by the Episcopal Order of Sisters of the Holy Nativity, where Radelmiller and other monks relocated after last year's fires. "So the house is about as safe as it can be."

St. Mary's is located near the historic Santa Barbara Mission, which was founded in 1786, the 10th of 21 California missions to be founded by Spanish Franciscans.

For Mt. Calvary retreat manager Nancy Bullock, it was like déjà vu, all over again.

"It's very upsetting; psychologically it's so distressing," said Bullock, who is married to the Rev. Jeff Bullock, rector of All Saints by-the Sea, Montecito.

Like many other area residents who opened their homes to the displaced, Bullock added: "Two of the monks are staying with us." Three others were staying with the Rev. Mark Asman, rector of Trinity Church in Santa Barbara's downtown area. Sister Abigail of St. Mary's was away at the mother house in Wisconsin.

But with changing fire conditions and the possibility of additional evacuations, there was still uncertainty and confusion, Bullock said. "We're all on edge. We don't have an account yet" of who has lost homes. "The fire has been hop-scotching around. It is now burning houses that made it through the last fire," she added.

Bishop Diocesan J. Jon Bruno has remained in regular contact with local clergy and others in the Santa Barbara area, monitoring the impact of the situation.

Nearly a dozen Ventura County firefighters were injured but no deaths had been reported in the blaze, which broke out about 1:45 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. By Friday afternoon it was only 10 percent contained. Its cause is yet undetermined. Numerous road closings were reported and shelters were maintained at a variety of locations. Up-to-date information is available here, organized at various locations.

By Friday, the fire had caused an estimated $2.6 million damage, with 10 percent containment. At least 62 fire crews and 2,335 fire and emergency personnel had been deployed, additional mandatory evacuations were anticipated, and an estimated 3,500 residences and 100 commercial properties were threatened, according to the Santa Barbara County website.

"There are stories that people got in their cars and drove to the parking lot at Costco and slept in their cars overnight," Bullock added.

Jenny Parsons, a parishioner at Christ the King Episcopal Church, Goleta, spent the night in a Red Cross shelter at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where an Episcopal chaplaincy is based at nearby St. Michael's University Church, Isla Vista.

She and her husband, John Parsons, and Christ the King's interim rector, the Rev. Chander Khanna, and Mrs. Kanta Khanna, were among those who slept on cots and the floor.

Khanna is serving as interim pastor until May 23 while the church's rector, the Rev. Canon Brian Cox IV, is on sabbatical.

For Leslie Smith, the rector's secretary at Christ the King, it had been a busy morning. With much of the congregation evacuated, she was preparing for a worst-case scenario. With the church under a suggested evacuation order, "when I leave the office today, I don't want to leave anything of value in the church," she said Friday.

At least 100 families from Trinity Episcopal Church had been displaced, said Melinda Carey, parish administrator, who added that, even though the path of the fire kept changing, resulting in additional displacement of those who'd already been evacuated, she'd helped keep in touch with parishioners via Facebook.

"We don't have a lot of info about the exact houses or if we've had people who've lost houses. The church itself is fine--we're in an evacuation warning area, but I think we're fine, although it's extraordinarily scary.

"The eastern edge of the fire is moving again, toward where it already burned in the Tea fire, back toward Montecito," she said.

Recalling that fire, she added: "The sad thing, too, is that we had a benefit scheduled for tomorrow night for Mt. Calvary, and we had to cancel it."

But she said the congregation was going to hold Sunday services "even if we are still in a warning area. We held them last time, during the Tea fire. It's so important. We had more people than ever, who knew they needed to be there. Unless we're ablaze ourselves, we're having services."

Robbie Boyd, All Saints' parish administrator said that parishioners under evacuation orders were able to stay with other parishioners or family members. "A couple of them fear they've lost their homes, but nothing's been verified."

For the Rev. Chander Khanna, originally from the Diocese of Amripsar in the Church of North India, the fires were "unbelievable.

"Yesterday at 1 pm, they came with a mandate that we leave the houses. It seemed that everything was burned. We don't have such experience in our country. We don't have brushfires, though we have got many trees. The wind is behaving very strangely, it's like hide and seek between the firefighters and the wind."

He predicted that Sunday services will be held, no matter what. As for his host's home, "we just do not know," he said. "We attempted to go to the house, but they would not let us near. We just don't know."

Mt. Calvary's Prior Radelmiller said that he and the monks were deeply grateful for the "overwhelming generosity" they'd received from everyone in the wake of last year's fires.

They will discuss whether or not to rebuild Mt. Calvary during an annual meeting in New York in June, but intend to lease St. Mary's to begin a retreat house ministry.

-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is senior correspondent for The Episcopal News, Los Angeles.

JCF said...

Prayers ascending! IT, and all SoCalifornios, STAY SAFE!

Lord, give us seasonable weather, and strengthen your servants on the front lines.