Tea Fire leaves college community devastated

Kenny Lindberg

Ryan Westerhoff was just following the same schedule he does every Thursday evening. Go to class, go home, and then go out.

Westerhoff, a freshman student at City College was in his 4 – 6 p.m. psychology class when the Tea Fire broke out. Before he could even start up his motorcycle to make his way home, the bad news hit.

“By the time I got out of class, the fire was well under way, and I didn’t have a chance to get home,” he said.

The house that Ryan spent 19 years growing up in no longer existed.

The fire has burned 1,940 acres of land, destroyed 210 homes, and damaged nine. An unconfirmed amount of students, faculty and staff were forced to evacuate their homes. Some only to return to heaps of ashes. It is believed that nine of the 10 students involved with starting the fire attend City College. Reports from the County Sherrifs department have been given to the District Attorney. The District Attorney will decide whether any criminal charges will be filed.

Westerhoff lived at the corner of Coyote and Mountain Drive, but said he didn’t lose anything major, because his mother was able to save many valuables before she evacuated.

“We were very lucky,” Westerhoff said.

Tara Cloud, an English as a Second Language instructor, had to evacuate her home in Mission Canyon, and stayed with friends. She was also in class Thursday evening, and tried teaching in the dark when the college’s electricity went out.

“I was real shaken up, because I didn’t know if I was going to have a house to come back to,” Cloud said. “I was really scared.”

Cloud’s house went untouched.

While some were consumed in devastation, others took the time to aid those in need.

Librarian director Kenley Neufeld dedicated the libraries Web site to inform people about the fire. Neufeld compiled sources, put links together, posted a map, and a fire blog for people to comment on.

“We’re a community, we care, and we’re here to help out,” Neufeld said.

Members of City College’s culinary department changed their fund raising into an event of giving to the firefighters.

Students from the Culinary Arts department cancelled a banquet Friday for the SBCC Foundation because of the fire. The cooked food – which included ribs, risotto, and salad – did not go to waste, as students donated the meals to the Montecito Fire Department, according to Chef Charlie Fredricks.

“It felt good, and firemen were psyched to get a real meal,” Fredricks said.

When the students brought the food to the firemen, they noticed that there were tables filled with other donations from the community.

“We’re just one of many food service operations that stepped up,” Fredricks said.

Professor Kathy O’Conner assisted in the community effort to rescue horses and other animals and secure them in safe areas.

“Horses that were burnt out of their homes were found new homes,” O’Conner said.

Sixty-six horses, five goats and four llamas were saved in the relief effort.

On Monday, 1,300 firefighters and other staff were on the scene, putting out the remaining hot spots.

As of Monday, the cost of containing the fire totaled $5.7 million. However, the damage the fire has cost the community far exceeds that amount.

As of 6 p.m. Monday, the fire was fully contained.

An early warning notification system helped to evacuate 4500 residents and successfully warned a similar number of residents of voluntary evacuations.

The fire is believed to have started at the Tea Gardens, near Mountain Drive.

Fire fighters from Santa Barbara and surrounding counties helped in the effort to douse the blaze.

In a campuswide e-mail sent to The Channels, Superintendent-President Andreea Serban expressed that her heart goes out to those who have lost their homes, and that she appreciated the desire many faculty and staff have shown to help the community through this stressful time.

-Victor Bryant contributed to this report.