People in Santa Barbara got good news this morning. They could go home. Fully one third of the community of 90-thousand people evacuated at one point ... and this morning most of those orders were lifted.
But not everyone had a home to go back to, including my friend Martha Bull, whose live phone reports you may have heard on our air during NBC4's coverage of the devastating Jesusita fire. There's a good description of the firefight in her neighborhood in the Santa Barbara Independent ... more on that in a minute. I wrote about the uncertainty of Martha's home as the story unfolded Friday; you can see that if you click here.
Martha sent me this picture of her house on Saturday, when she finally managed to gather the courage to go look at what was left of her beautiful mountaintop home.
This is the walkway, up to her front door. It's a door that always has been flung open to anyone who needed a place to stay for a night, or a weekend, or weeks on end -- as was the case with her neighbors who were burned out of their homes in the Tea Fire in November.
Martha's the one who, as an established Santa Barbaran and mother, would host big, homecooked dinner parties for her starving journalist girlfriends, many of us just getting our start in the business in Santa Barbara. We always called her home "Paseo Marteo" or "Casa del Marta," and looked forward to our "girls nights" not just because we loved her house, but because we loved the home she made and we all felt a sense of belonging and ownership of it too. Once you'd been a guest there, you were always welcomed back.
So it's disheartening that this is one person whose house has been taken away. I say house, because the home is still there ... just waiting for a new "house" to inhabit.
Back to the Independent story. The minute-by-minute updates on the firefighting efforts in the local tabloid publication explained what happened in Martha's neighborhood:
And Chris Meagher offers this report: La Vista Road is another testament to the work done by firefighters Thursday night. Every address in the lower part of the road is not only safe, but the yards are hardly scorched, despite Barger Canyon going up in flames Thursday.
Most every home had a fire engine stationed at it to fight off the flames. Craig Ingalls spent the night at his parents' home on La Vista Road, a home they had lived in for 45 years and where Ingalls grew up. His mother and father evacuated, but he came up to load some more stuff in his pickup. He ended up spending last night, and observed the valiant battle by the firefighters. “They did a good job,” he said. “When the wind switched, that’s when all hell broke loose.”
Bill Parris stayed at his home at 1221 La Vista until the last possible second, watching the firefighting. “It was gnarly,” he said. “There were firefighters everywhere.” Further up the road, at 1450 La Vista, it wasn’t firefighters, but a group of six men who kept John Price’s home safe. The group, headed down the hill packed in a white Chevy Blazer, were dirty but in good moods on their way to Chuck’s Steakhouse.
The fire was “gnarly,” Price said, but the group was equipped with a water pump, and staved off the fire with a lot of hard work, and sweat. The group seemed to have a good time, or at least were enjoying the result, and were laughing as they considered starting “John Price’s A Fire Team.” “Will work for beer,” Price said.
After saving their home, they made an attempt to save 1560 La Vista Road, but it didn’t happen, as embers had already gotten under the foundation of the stilted property. Behind the home, the hills and canyons were a charred black and white as far as the eye could see.
That's what happened to Martha's house -- embers getting underneath it (it's not on stilts, though) and it burned from the inside out even as fire crews mopped out embers nearby. There was nothing they could do.
I'm happy to report that Martha and her family are well taken care of by friends while they plan to rebuild their house (exactly as it was, except for that couch her husband hated, and that range that never worked right,) and that her perspective is one of new beginnings and a new adventure, and a new appreciation for just how much she is loved by the friends she has taken care of over the years.
One example of how good things come back to you is a story Martha told me Friday as we broke bread at a Santa Barbara cafe and talked about what she'd taken with her, and the things she was sad she had left behind, thinking for certain she was only evacuating as a precaution.
An artist friend of hers had made her a beautiful set of dishes nearly two decades ago. Martha told me I had certainly eaten off of them on a few girls' nights and special occasions, as she described the pattern on them to me. The friend who had made her the dishes lost her house in the Tea fire a few months ago, and Martha decided that she would give the dishes back to her, so she'd have something familiar, and old, that she'd made many years ago.
Martha packed the dishes and gave them to her friend, who called her Friday after she heard that Martha, also, had lost her house.
"Looks like you're getting your dishes back," she said.