Disasters In Montecito: Get Out Now!

26 03 2018


By Richard Schultz[1]


[Richard Schultz, recently widowed, anticipated a quiet, uneventful winter at his home in Montecito, California.  Instead, he found himself confronted by two terrifying natural disasters—first, The Thomas Fire, the worst in California’s history that burned 273,000 acres and more than 200 homes in Montecito; then, the subsequent mudslides in Montecito, which left 21 people dead and at least two missing.]


My house in Montecito is north of East Mountain Drive, adjacent to the burning Los Padres National Forest. The Sun is obliterated by thick smoke; and the few people who are still on the village streets, wear masks. I don’t want to leave my home. I don’t want any more upheaval in my life.

December 10

Voluntary Evacuation has suddenly turned into Mandatory Evacuation. Five burly firemen from Montecito appear at my house; six more from another fire department join them an hour later. Both groups are happy to see my portable gas-powered pool pump equipment; and they lay it all poolside, with 250 feet of my fire hose in tidy rows.

I put a “carry-on“ bag on my bed and start throwing medicine, checkbooks and some clothing into it.  (I’m not thinking clearly)  I wonder where I should go.

“Go!  Get out now!”  The firemen tell me.

Nothing is said about where to go, what to take, how long I’ll need to be away—just “leave.”

The phone rings.  I debate whether to answer, but I do and find it is an informed friend inviting me to stay with her family for a few days until it is safe to return to my house. The timing of her call is miraculous.  I hastily accept and drive to her home in Santa Barbara.  I stay for one day, two days, ten days . . . thirteen days before I can return home.

December 23

I am afraid to see what is left.  The low plastic lights along the driveway are burned, melted.  Black soot is everywhere.  My house is still there!  It’s dripping wet and smells of smoke: the windows are dirty with soot.  My wide Rosemary hedge and irrigation system along my driveway are burned, lost.  My pool is nearly empty except for a few inches of thick black water in the bottom.

Four men are dismantling nozzle holding metal tripods that were set around the house, and replacing padded porch furniture previously moved away from the house.  One man is taking pictures of my wet house.  I ask, and they tell me they are not firemen; they work for my homeowners insurance company.  The company’s own fire trucks had been on my property, and they had helped the firemen to save my home.

No one can tell me what has happened to my portable pool pump.  I’m not sure that I care at this point.

I go inside to see that upholstered furniture has been moved to the center of the living room.  I see black soot shoe smudges starting at the front door.  I follow them upstairs.

Two bank envelopes full of cash and my .38 caliber pistol are missing.  I wonder why I did not take those with me.

My home is otherwise intact.  I am so grateful I cannot bring myself to complain to the men on the scene.  I thank them all profusely for their efforts to save my home.

January 9

I’m not leaving.

It’s another Mandatory Evacuation, but I’ve told the sheriff I’m going to stick it out at my home.  I know the risk; I know the burned Los Padres hillside behind me has nothing left living to hold the earth and debris in place.  The deluge predicted tonight is expected to cause mudslides.

All of my neighbors within sight have evacuated.  But weary from the fire evacuation, I decide to remove my cars from the garage, and have my gardener help me acquire enough sandbags to protect all of my doors and swimming pool, which I had cleaned and re-filled.  I make a quick trip to the supermarket for a huge load of groceries, and as much drinking water as I can buy.

The raging, powerful rain flood and mudslide came that night as predicted.  The deluge is reported to be brief and noisy, but as a 90-year-old with severe hearing loss, I simply sleep through the entire event.  I wake up to utter silence, and the lack of human motion in Montecito.

This was the beginning of 19 days of sensory deprivation.

That morning I hear no traffic of any kind in Montecito, no sound—it is like a ghost town. Then came my reality: no electricity, no running water, no natural gas, no dial tone, no Internet, no TV, no newspaper, and no mail.  My sole means of communication was my “flip phone”—that is, while my battery lasts.  It is like camping out in luxury shelter with a view.

Two sheriff deputies on patrol find me in my home after several days as a single “holdout.”  They ask me about drinking water; I show them what I have.  They return with a 12-pack of bottled water and a bag of food.  They advise me to evacuate.

My knowledge of what was happening in Montecito and the outside world comes solely from my 4 adult children and close friends, all living in other cities and states, who have my cell phone number.  How long will this last without electricity?

After about a week, the electric flickers on periodically.  I keep my cell phone plugged in and use my electric oven to take the chill off.  I scoop water from my swimming pool for washing and to keep my toilet flushing.

The county sheriff, knowing that I am a hold out, checks in on me every 3 or 4 days, often leaving me with more bottled water and always urging me to evacuate.

Then Montecito begins the slow process of recovering from this double disaster.  Only from my cell phone informants do I learn that the streets and areas most damaged from the mud and debris are to be given priority in the cleanup.  Early on, 2 missing persons are found dead in mud and debris.  My property, adjacent to the National Forest, is high on the foothills making it among the last to be restored.

Along with tree trunks, enormous piles of brush and boulders the size of small cars, large sections of existing water mains and natural gas pipes have not only been exposed, but some are grossly displaced by the mudslide even to distant locations.  All of this results in numerous streets being made impassible. Restoration of utilities will be a slow; a methodical process extending 20-plus days into February.

I am getting cold, running out of fresh food and optimism.  With no human contact, entertainment or direct news, I am beginning to revert to an alternate reality.  I have finished reading 5 new books that were Christmas presents, and am now into my library and “The Life and Works of Vladimir Lenin.”  I find myself starting to reminisce, initially over my wife’s recent death, followed by unresolved childhood, adolescent and adult events.  I am stuck within my own mind.  Could this be “Mindfulness?”  These troubling thoughts are not something I can share with folks on the other end of my cell phone.

January 19

My dial tone finally returns.  I still have no running water, natural gas, Internet, or television.  I have rationed my bottled water wisely, but no fresh food and still no human contact.  For me, Montecito is still silent except for the thumping sounds of overhead helicopters.  My existence is starting to becoming disorienting!

My children and friends report to me by phone about a burst of progress in the restoration of utilities, but with warnings of contamination and safety issues.  Water explosions come in spurts from my open faucets.

January 27

Mandatory Evacuation is lifted.  Though still without natural gas or Internet service, I have survived these two terrible sequential Montecito tragedies.

. . .

Will there be more?


Montecito mudslides


© 2018, Richard Schultz


[1]  Richard Schultz is a guest commenter at this blog.  He is a retired doctor from Michigan, who has written numerous articles and books.

See, e.g., https://alumni.med.wayne.edu/alums/562509



One response

26 04 2018
free movies

nice post, keep it up


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