Monday, November 20, 2017     Volume: 18, Issue: 37
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Santa Maria Sun / School Scene

The following article was posted on July 12th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 19 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 19

Summer camps evacuated, canceled due to Whittier Fire

By CALEB WISEBLOOD

The Whittier Fire sent scores of campers home from three summer camps that were evacuated July 8 after the fire blazed across acres of dry, forested mountainside near Cachuma Lake.

The fire began right around the gates of Camp Whittier, according to the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover. The Sheriff’s Office handles evacuations in emergency situations, Hoover explained, so Sheriff’s deputies’ efforts were first focused on the staff and students at the camp.


RESCUE RESPONDERS
Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Search and Rescue volunteers evacuated more than 80 Circle V Camp staff and campers on July 8 after the Whittier Fire blocked the only road out of the camp for more than two hours.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SANTA BARBARA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

“Some of these fires break out where there are no people, this was right where there were many, many people enjoying their Saturday,” Hoover said. “At that moment, you could hear the concern from dispatchers handling the calls, and the deputies out in the field relaying what they were seeing, and the urgency of the situation. It was unbelievable just to listen to the professionalism of everyone involved and the commitment to get everyone out of there and make sure that nobody was in trouble.”

The fire spread quickly across either side of Highway 154, Hoover explained, and evacuation efforts shifted to The Outdoor School at Rancho Alegre. Staff and students were successfully evacuated there as well, she said, but several structures at the camp were lost to the blaze. One of those buildings housed penned wildlife, which perished in the fire.

A dramatic ordeal unfolded while Sheriff’s Office deputies and Santa Barbara Search and Rescue Volunteers were dispatched to evacuate Circle V Ranch. More than 80 staff and students became trapped at the camp—which is run by the Catholic nonprofit, the Society of St. Vincent De Paul—when the only road from the camp to Highway 154 was blocked by fire.

Sheriff’s Office and Search and Rescue responders tried to navigate the road, Hoover explained, but the blaze was too intense, and they were forced back. A squad car was lost to the fire, Hoover said, but there were no injuries. The campers and staff sheltered in place with the help of a U.S. Forest Service first responder.

Nearby firefighters immediately sent teams to Circle V, Hoover explained, to clear the roadway and allow Sheriff’s Office and Search and Rescue responders to evacuate the camp.

“The campers were in there for two hours, roughly, before they were rescued,” Hoover said. “And if you think about that as a parent, how concerned you would be, two hours has to feel like an eternity.”

Sheriff’s Office and Search and Rescue teams set up a staging area at the entrance to Rancho San Marcos Gold Course and coordinated with a fleet of buses sent by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to aid in transporting the kids out of the camp while fire crews cleared the road, Search and Rescue Incident Commander Nelson Trichler told the Sun.

Once they were given the go-ahead from fire and Forest Service personnel, Sheriff’s Office and Search and Rescue vehicles traveled in a convoy to the camp. The short trip wasn’t without obstacles though, Trichler explained.

“About halfway out there, a large oak tree branch fell off because it was burning and blocked half the road,” he said. “So we stopped, got out our chainsaws and hand saws, cut up the fallen, large branch, and moved it off to the side.”

Another tree was downed a bit farther in as well, he said, and had to be cleared too. When Trichler and his team pulled into the camp, flames were starting to lick one of the walls of the camp near a shed, he said, when a water helicopter team doused the flames.

The campers and staff were calmly loaded up in the Sheriff’s Office and Search and Rescue vehicles, Trichler said, and the group caravanned back to Highway 154.

“We came across some areas on our way out that were burning but weren’t burning before,” he said. “It was warm enough that I felt a pretty good heat through my window.

“The kids were great, the kids were calm,” he continued. “The counselor was great too, they were actually having them sing songs on the way down.”

The buses provided by the Chumash were waiting right at Highway 154, and escorted the campers and staff to Mission Santa Ines.

Parents of campers who live locally picked them up at the mission, and the rest were transported to the Society of St. Vincent De Paul headquarters in Los Angeles, executive director of the society, David Fields, told the Sun. Fields couldn’t confirm whether or not there was any structural loss at the camp after the evacuation, and upcoming camp sessions are postponed until further notice.

School Scene was written by Managing Editor Joe Payne. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, email, or mail.




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