For Professor Richard Applebaum, sifting through the remains of what once was his home and planning for an uncertain future has become a full time job.
Applebaum, a faculty member of both the Sociology and Global Studies departments, was one of four UCSB faculty and staff members who lost their homes in the Nov. 12 Tea Fire. Applebaum said the fire, which scorched 1,940 acres and destroyed 219 buildings, tore through his home before he had the chance to save anything.
“I was in Washington and my wife was in New York City,” Applebaum said. “The whole street was eliminated, basically vaporized. We got nothing out of our house. We lived there 30 years and we lost everything we owned except for what we had in out carry-on luggage.”
Applebaum said the nitty-gritty of dealing with the destruction has been taxing.
“We’ve been up there with a lot with insurance estimators, architects, pricers and we’ve had to sort through what is left of our home — which is basically nothing,” Applebaum said. “We’ve been staying at a friend’s house. Hopefully we’ll move into a long-term rental while we figure out what we’re going to do. We’ll probably be in temporary housing for the next year and a half to two years if we decide to rebuild.”
Benjamin Cohen, a professor of political science, was also out of town when his home on the Riviera overlooking Sycamore Canyon was destroyed, along with all his possessions.
“I was out of town, so I didn’t know anything about it until later in the evening,” Cohen said. “My wife was on her way home when the fire broke out, and when she arrived at home it was clear that the house was in danger, so she turned around and left right away. We weren’t home at the time so neither of us received an evacuation warning.”
Though he has continued to teach his courses on international political economy, Cohen said the academic research he had devoted a large part of his career to was destroyed in the fire.
“I lost all my research materials and my professional library,” Cohen said. “Most of it is irreplaceable.”
“It hasn’t been easy,” he said.
Despite his losses, Applebaum said he feels privileged to be surrounded by such a supportive community.
“I’m fortunate to live in a community that comes together when there’s a disaster like this,” Applebaum said. “The university has been really supportive, as has the community of Santa Barbara. The day my house burned down I got a call from the chancellor on my cell phone and we had offers from probably a dozen or more homes to stay at temporarily until we got our footing.”
Chancellor Henry T. Yang said the university immediately offered to assist faculty members affected by the fire.
“I have been in touch with the four UCSB families I’ve heard about so far to express our campus’s sympathy and support and to offer whatever help we can provide,” Yang said in an e-mail.
In an online memo sent out to the campus community on Nov. 14, Yang explained the options available to faculty, staff and students affected and displaced by the Tea Fire.
“As soon as I learned of the fire, I immediately began working with my administrative and faculty colleagues, including the Chair of the Senate, in order to find ways for our campus to help those impacted by this tragedy,” Yang said. “We set up a campus hotline number for people to call to get assistance, such as leave from work, child care, counseling services, short-term loans or temporary housing.”
Applebaum, who will most likely return to teaching next quarter, said that the fire put things into perspective.
“When you lose your home and everything in it, it really forces you to confront what is important, and what is important is that nobody died and that my wife and I have been together through this,” Applebaum said. “I have an amazing supportive network, which has made a terrible situation bearable.”