The Gap Fire
July 1st, 2008. Haskells Beach, evening wind swell.
We found marginal waves and relaxed on the rocks, hanging out with some Goleta boys,
oblivious to the fact that up on the mountain above us, a wildfire had broken out.
We didn’t even notice it on the drive home, but a neighbor’s nervous knock on the door
brought it to our attention. A short drive up to a friend’s house got us a better view of
the beginning of what would become a long running ordeal.
July 2nd, 2008. Morning light revealed that what looked so threatening the
night before, was actually way up on the mountain. And now it looked like the
worst was over, as soft, white wisps of smoke rose slowly to the sky.
But by afternoon, the gentle offshore flow turned the white wisps into a darker and
larger cloud, cloaking the mountain tops.
By evening, the media began to take notice of what had the potential to become a big
news story. The fire was creeping down the hills, but also expanding it’s width at a
more rapid pace than expected.
Dense, fifty year old chaparral was burning hot, and the occasional air drops seemed like
a futile effort to extinguish a growing problem.
Since California was riddled with wild fires, resources were limited, adding to a sense of
urgency spreading throughout Goleta.
Friends and neighbors gathered at lookout points to get a better look and share what little
information they had about the fire and the efforts being made to control it.
They also compared notes about if and when to start packing, and why the power kept
going off and on.
As evening fell, the flames seemed to grow, and it became difficult to
determine how far or close the fire really was.
The fading sun became a glowing red ball.
A quick drive up to Farren Road revealed further proof that this was getting serious.
The fact that there seemed to be a lack of a major fire fighting effort made us realize
this was out of control and our lighthearted joking about the situation turned to more
somber conversation and discussion of possible scenarios.
Driving back to Patterson from Farren, you could see the magnitude of the situation. It
seemed as though the entire mountain range above Goleta was burning. When we reached
home to find the power out again, we decided to start packing up, just to be ready.
So we began, at what would normally be bedtime, to try to make rational decisions about what
to save from destruction and what to let burn, while holding flashlights in our mouths. About
11:00 PM, the power came on, so we jumped in our cars to go get gas in case we got
evacuated. Even gas stations don’t work without electricity!
Needless to say, it was a long night.
July 3rd, 2008. Once again the morning had a calming presence. There was no wind, and the
fury of the flames was gone. Just harmless smoke, hanging around like the show was over.
By afternoon, the smoke turned dark, and flames began to appear. There was a pattern
forming here; mellow morning, afternoon warning, evening, all hell breaks loose.
They also started shutting down roads, and telling certain areas to be ready to evacuate.
This is North Fairview.
By now, we began to see more of a fire fighting effort, with more aircraft in the air
and more trucks on the street.
But we also saw more flames in the hills.
Obviously, air quality sucked, but that was low on the worry list.
Since all our phones were cordless, none of them worked without electricity, so we were
not able to receive the reverse 911 call.
Luckily, our neighbors came over and told us, it was time to get out.
So, in the orange glow with ash raining down, helicopters hovering overhead, cellphones
ringing nonstop and sirens in the neighborhood, we packed up, decided on a meeting
place and headed out.
July 4th, 2008. After an uneasy night at my brother’s house, we were up at the crack of dawn
to see what happened. I managed to get into our neighborhood, despite police roadblocks, and
again, was pleasantly surprised to see the whole neighborhood safe and sound.
Although the morning seemed calm, we were now familiar with the pattern. The
“meteorologists” again predicted sundowner conditions, as they had for every evening
this week. So when we got word that my brother’s house in Embarcadero was next to be
evacuated, that was enough; We headed North, out of the fire zone and back into a normal
Fourth of July weekend.
By Sunday, we were able to return home and start blowing away all the
ashes from the yard and trying to unravel all the blur of memories from a
week we’ll remember forever.
All Photos by Tom Modugno