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Sherpa Fire: Brush is 'like gasoline' up there, homeowner says

A screenshot of footage of the Scherpa Fire on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
A screenshot of footage of the Scherpa Fire on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.

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In Santa Barbara County, more than 1,200 acres are ablaze, and the fire is still burning out of control.

The Sherpa Fire broke out yesterday afternoon in the Refugio Canyon area of Los Padres National Forest, and strong winds quickly increased its size and scope, temporarily forcing the closure of a section of the 101 Freeway.

Winds have calmed down this morning, and crews are trying to take advantage of that and the cooler temperatures, but there was no containment as of mid-morning.

Meanwhile, many areas north of Santa Barbara have been evacuated. One of those evacuees is Michael Lewis of El Capitan.

Lewis said their home was one canyon over from where the fire had last been reported to have spread. He joined Take Two to discuss his experience. The following interview has been condensed and edited slightly for clarity:

I guess the first instinct is to try to protect some things. Did you try to do anything like that?

Yeah, so we have — it’s interesting, because we have horses on the property, so obviously the first thing we did was load them up on a trailer and take them to a safe place, and after that we went back to the house and just kind of started grabbing the things that we couldn’t replace, just in case we woke up this morning and learned that it had spread to that, to our canyon.

Can you share what you grabbed?

My dog, my wine, my wife — her wedding dress — and photo albums, cook books, just things like that. It was actually a very interesting exercise. You don’t really think about doing anything like that. You know, and you’re just putting intrinsic value on things as you’re walking through the house, and it was very surprising what I ended up with, but yeah.

Do you know the status of your house right now?

So we just got word from our neighbor who said that the house is still there, but they’re getting pressured to leave. The firemen are coming through our neighborhood, so I guess scoping it out, trying to see the best place maybe to defend from. Because as you guys know there is no containment on it yet, and the winds are expected to pick up again later today. So, as of right now, we’re told our neighborhood is still OK, but it’s still under threat, so we’re staying away until we kind of can figure out what to do.

Where is your head at? Are you prepared to lose the house? To come back and it’s not there?

As prepared as one can be, I guess. You know. I mean it’s a workday still, so I’m trying to kind of grasp with you know going to work and doing a job at some point today, but also knowing that I could get a phone call later, and the house is gone and all the things that I couldn’t fit in the truck and jeep are gone as well. But there’s really not much you can do. You know, you can’t move. You can’t get a moving van in there and just move. You just kind of move on, if everything’s gone, and hopefully you grab enough of what can’t be replaced.

The fire started yesterday afternoon. Were there warning signs to you that it might get bad?

Yeah, so it’s Santa Barbara, right, and I’ve lived here for close to a decade, and I’ve lived here close to a decade, and I’ve seen my fair share of fires. And it usually starts small, and a couple hours later they’re really, really large. And you know, we know that the area up there hasn’t really seen any activity in at least my lifetime. And so when my wife had come home about 3:30 and she just said there was some smoke up on the hill, and it just kind of makes you think. So I went on the roof, and I looked over and the blaze was just billowing. The smoke was billowing, rather. And that’s when we just kind of called a friend with a horse trailer, started getting, you know, the horses situated. And as we were doing that over the course of an hour, you could just see more and more and more smoke, and so the warning was I guess that first plume, and then it just grew and grew, and that’s when we kind of said, “You know what, this went from 20 acres to 50 acres in an hour.” And then once the horses — we were on the road with them, we heard it was 100 acres, and so we knew it was growing fast and they didn’t have any containment on it. It’s just one of those things, with all of the fuel on the ground up there, there’s not much they would be able to do, especially with those winds, so we just kind of assumed the worst and prepared for it.

Is this kind of fire common to that area?

It’s more common that you’d like it to be, I guess. You know, as a resident, you expect it. We actually have June gloom, and we have a fire season. It’s just part of living in this area. There’s so many hills and canyons, and just dry brush and underbrush up here, that it really doesn’t take much. You know, if somebody’s burning trash on their ranch or throws a cigarette out the window, it just goes. And it’s like gasoline.

Are you allowed to go back and grab something if you can or is it closed off to you now?

It’s closed off. The 101 up there was closed. We got back to get our things by a matter of 20 minutes last night, and then the police came through and said that we had to go. As of this morning, you know, we learned that we still can’t get back into our neighborhood. So even if I wanted to go back, there’s really no way to do it. Part of the problem I think with living up in these more remote areas, is there’s usually one road in, one road out, and once it’s blocked, there’s really not much you can do.

Click the blue player link above to listen to the interview.