The Jesusita Fire, which started last Tuesday afternoon, has left a considerable path of destruction in its wake and at least one UCSB professor and possibly several others without a home.
According to the university administration, there are unconfirmed reports that five or more houses belonging to UCSB faculty and staff members were destroyed by the Jesusita blaze. In total, 78 homes were devastated, 22 were damaged and over 130 other structures were damaged or destroyed in the inferno, Dennis Bozanich, a dispatcher from the County Emergency Operation Center said.
Catherine Gautier, UCSB professor of geography, said the loss of her home to the destructive blaze has left her sad and confused.
“I saw my house burning on television,” Gautier said. “It was a very weird feeling watching your home burn down on television. I saw it burning on the news in different stages.”
Her two daughters, who attend UC Santa Cruz, came home during the fire to see what was left of their house, Gautier said.
“They have essentially lived their whole lives here, so they are very emotional about it,” Gautier said. “We have a small family here, so we need to stay together. I was able to get a few things out but not very much. I only had about an hour to get everything out.”
Although the devastation has brought the community together, the solidarity is only so helpful, Gautier said.
“I’m trying to stay positive,” Gautier said. “We are focusing on the future and rebuilding our house, but there are times when the sadness takes me over. Most of my friends that live on my street are going home right now, but I don’t have a home to go to, and that is the hardest part.”
Gautier said she will not be teaching at UCSB for the rest of the quarter but plans to return once her home is rebuilt. She added she plans to rebuild the house right where it was before the fire destroyed it.
The fire has wreaked havoc throughout the hills above Santa Barbara and in the Los Padres National Forest area, burning 8,733 acres and creating a massive cloud of smoke and ash over the county.
Jose Castro, UCSB graduate student and Spanish 6 instructor, said the inferno has strongly affected campus life, with many faculty members and graduate students living and working out of evacuation areas.
“I am working on my dissertation right now, but had to put everything on hold when I was evacuated,” said Castro. “I didn’t have time to take all of my books with me, and I couldn’t bring all of my students’ work as well, which made it difficult to teach my class.”
Ron Cortez, associate vice chancellor of Administrative Services, said that although the extent of the Jesusita Fire’s effect on UCSB faculty is not fully known at this time, it has certainly had an impact on the lives of UCSB’s lecturers and professors.
“The problem is that much of the information that people are receiving is secondhand,” Cortez said. “We are still in the process of confirming, but there are five [professors] that we believe were impacted by the fire.”
At this time, approximately 145 properties – or about 360 people – are still under mandatory evacuation orders, with an additional 9,000 county residents under evacuation warnings. While this is still a very significant emergency, Bozanich said, the fire is currently reported as 80 percent contained.
To assist the refugees from the fire, UCSB has been providing shelter and other assistance since last Thursday – when the County Emergency Operation Center, as well as the Public Health Dept.’s Operation Center, was moved to the UCSB campus. To support these relief efforts, the Rec Cen has been largely closed until the Red Cross shelter moves out of the Multi-Activity Center.