My beloved Santa Barbara is on fire again. I moved away to go to college in 1979, but my father still lives in the house I grew up in on San Roque Road.
One of my first memories as a child revolves around the Coyote fire of 1964. I can still see the flickering lights of the flames in the canyon as the fire made its way to Steven’s Park. Last night the fire came back near there, but news reports I have found indicate firefighters have managed to keep the fire mostly out of Steven’s Park.
My dad told me when I got older that he went down to Steven’s Park that night in ’64. Using a shovel, he fought the fire with some neighbors. Underneath the Foothill Road (Highway 192) bridge, he put out a small fire that had caught on the fence of the house there — I imagine he probably saved the house. My dad’s story reminds me of a similar one from a friend, who told me that just before he’d left his house during the Witch Creek fire two years ago in Rancho Bernardo, a neighbor had put out a small fire started by embers on a wooden fence across the street from his house.
It’s those embers that can burn down a house miles in front of the advancing inferno.
I found and interesting story in the LA Times about another such resident, George Quinn, who used garden hoses to defend the house he had lived in since 1952. “Soaking wet and smoking a cigarette,” Quinn claimed, “I put everything out, the damn firefighters were no help.” His wife Barbara said, “We were calm…if you get hysterical, nothing happens.”
I’m not sure exactly what that means, but perhaps she was saying nothing gets done unless we do it ourselves. And even though I can’t really condone their actions, I also can’t help but admire old codgers who stand and fight off the flames, like Mr. Quinn and my dad (who admittedly was younger than I am now when he picked up that shovel).
It is incumbent on all of us who live in fire zones to prepare for the inevitability of these conflagrations by clearing brush and creating defensible space. Agencies fighting the fire, despite Mr. Quinn’s protestations, are a great help, but can’t be everywhere during the disaster. They must encourage evacuation to encourage public safety.
Fear and bravery have their purposes. It’s been 45 years since my dad went out and fought a fire. This time he evacuated to Santa Ynez. I think it was the wise thing to do.