Alisal Fire on Gaviota

by Guner Tautrim

Photo Courtesy of Guner Tautrim

My first view of the fire was on Monday October 11 at 2:13 PM. The first thing to assess is where it’s coming from. It seemed that it was on the backside of the Santa Ynez range somewhere between Tajiguas and Barone Canyon. We’ve yet to find out where the source was but I believe it was Alisal Ranch that reported the fire first and therefore it got the name the Alisal fire. The day had extremely strong winds so even though it was far away I knew that we were down wind and had the potential to be in harm’s way. What some might not realize is that the night before, hundreds of miles away, an event happened that would make all the difference to us. A winter storm blew through the Sierra Nevada’s and dumped snow, all within the perimeter of the Sequoia fire. This massive fire had been going on for some time and suddenly snowfall slowed it in its tracks. First responders woke up Monday morning and many were relieved of duty. Later that afternoon when the Alisal fire broke out, many of those resources from all over the western United States were diverted our way. Helicopters and planes that would normally take 2 to 3 days to get here were already in California and in route.

Photo Courtesy of Guner Tautrim

Unfortunately, the winds were so strong on Monday that much of the fire suppressing aircraft were unable to fly. Evacuation Orders were in place by early afternoon Tuesday and I went to help friends evacuate at Arroyo Quemada and Tajiguas. To my surprise the fire had already made Its way down to the freeway and was threatening the communities I was helping evacuate. By the time everyone was out, the fire had jumped the freeway almost exactly where the Refugio oil spill crossed the freeway.

Photo Courtesy of Guner Tautrim

Once back home we began our fire preparation rituals, pulling out fire hose, cleaning any gutters, raking up any dead matter from under the trees around the structures, etc. That night the winds were calm and we managed to get some sleep.  Tuesday morning, we woke early and decided how best to use our time. A quick quad ride up to the back of the canyon gave me a great view of the action going down in Refugio. At that time (9am Tuesday), the fire was engulfing the west side of Refugio – from the ridge all the way to the beach. Knowing that it would likely jump to the east side and come down Venadito Canyon, I raced home and helped with the evacuation items.

With the cars packed and parked on the frontage road we decided to shelter in place and protect our homestead. I wouldn’t suggest disobeying evacuation orders, but in our circumstance, we live so close to the ocean that I have never feared for our lives fighting a wildfire (remember we just went through this some years ago on the Sherpa Fire). That being said we chose to evacuate some animals such as the horses and also shuffled some livestock around. This fire was different than the Sherpa in that it was approaching us on two sides. One of the fronts was coming down Venadito Canyon to our west and one was coming down Las Flores Canyon to the north and east. Not knowing which one would reach us first was unnerving.

Photo Courtesy of Guner Tautrim

Soon time would tell and the eastern fire line was obviously winning the race. Since our neighbor to the east has done very little to graze or do any fire mitigation, the fire burned intensely and moved quickly on that property. At 4:15 PM, the fire was eminent and that’s the time to call 911. No fire engines were in sight at that time. We learned on the Sherpa fire that a call in to 911 must be done at the right time. Too early and the fire department will show up and then leave because you are not eminently threatened. Too late and, well, you’re too late. Dispatch at 911 asked how close is the fire? And my response was “15 to 20 minutes from reaching our structures.” Within 15 minutes we had all hands on deck. Our fire hoses were wide open fighting back the flames that were quickly approaching. Within 20 minutes the first fire engine arrived. Knowing our terrain better than anyone, we knew exactly what needed to be done. The additional help from the fire engine, and soon after a second one, was comforting insurance.

Once the fire engines arrive, they are assigned to your location until the threat is over. That means they spent the whole night there which was a great comfort. All in all, the condition when the fire arrived was somewhat favorable – winds weren’t too crazy and being in the evening the relative humidity had begun to rise. Our success could be summarized in three words: preparation, practice, and commitment. I’d like to think the helping hands that were committed to that success – Mark my dad, Sequoia and Kai my sons, Heidi my wife, Jack, Jenya, Tristin, Zoe and Cole. A good team makes all the difference.  

P.S. – The rain storm that arrived close on the heels of this burn came down nice and slow. We received 1.5” and the top of Refugio received just over 3”. From what I have heard there was no damage caused by this storm event.

Many families were not so fortunate as us so please consider donating to their cause. “Go Fund Me” campaigns exist for the following folks:

Landon and Mariah Smith

Christina Moore

Alan Hazard

Photo Courtesy of Guner Tautrim
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