Montecito Tea Fire
|Montecito Tea Fire|
|Location||Montecito, California, United States|
|Date(s)||November 13, 2008 (November 14 UTC)-November 17
17:50 PDT (1:50 UTC)
|Burned area||1,940 acres (8 km2)|
|Land use||Residential; Open space|
|Perpetrator(s)||10 college students|
The Montecito Tea Fire is a wildfire that began on November 13, 2008, destroying 210 homes in the cities of Montecito and Santa Barbara, California in the United States of America. It was the first of several November 2008 wildfires that burned hundreds of homes November 13–15, 2008. The Tea Fire ignited in the Cold Springs section of Montecito at approximately 17:50 PST on November 13, 2008. The fire started at a Mar Y Cel historic structure called the "Tea House" above Mountain Drive, giving the fire its name. Spreading rapidly, it was fanned by offshore winds, known as Sundowners that blow down the Santa Ynez Mountains, gusting up to 85 mph (113 km/h). These winds caused the fire to spread into the city of Santa Barbara. The fire was 40% contained on the 15th, 75% on the 16th, and by November 17, 2008 it was 95% contained after burning 1,940 acres (7.9 km2), and on November 18, it was 100% contained.
The cause of the fire was under investigation for the first four days when authorities determined on November 17 that it was "human caused". The following day, Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office investigators announced that the fire was caused by a group of ten men and women, age 18 to 22, college students, who went to the abandoned Tea House on the night of Wednesday, November 12 and held a bonfire party at the location, through the early morning hours of Thursday, November 13. The students told investigators they had put the fire out, but authorities believe the fire smoldered until the heavy winds ignited the fire on Thursday afternoon.
On November 20, 2008, Dr. Andreea M. Serban, President of Santa Barbara City College, issued a statement noting that "nine of the ten individuals identified as allegedly responsible for the Tea Fire have been confirmed as Santa Barbara City College students." That same day, Dr Gayle Beebe, president of Westmont College, noted in a press release the college's relief to learn that none of the ten were enrolled at Westmont.
Although the individuals were found guilty of trespassing and holding an illegal bonfire, there was not enough evidence to convict them of starting the blaze. "After a months-long investigation by several agencies, the District Attorney’s Office decided it could only charge the group with the misdemeanor crimes, unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the campfire they had started - and, according to group members, extinguished - more than 12 hours earlier had led to the Tea Fire." 
Injuries and evacuations
Santa Barbara County officials stated that they had reports of 13 persons injured, including 10 who were treated for smoke inhalation and three with burn injuries, one of which was critical. There is a foundation for two burn victims of the fire, Lance & Carla Hoffman. Information on this foundation including benefits and donations can be found on Facebook's group "Tea Fire Survivors: Lance and Karla Hoffman". The fire resulted in the evacuation of 5,400 homes with 15,000 residents. Approximately 2,700 evacuees were back home by the November 16, 2008. There was one fatality amongst the evacuees, a 98-year-old man, though the county sheriff-coroner had not ascertained yet if the death was due to the fire or his multiple medical problems.
Destruction of 210 homes
The Tea Fire resulted in the destruction of 210 homes in Montecito and Santa Barbara. Of the destroyed homes, 106 were in the city of Santa Barbara, and the remainder were in Montecito. One of the homes destroyed in the fire belonged to actor Christopher Lloyd (best known for playing "Doc" Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy). Another was the home of TV producer Marcy Carsey. Actor Rob Lowe, who lives in the area struck by the fire, was forced to flee his home. Film director, screenwriter and film producer Steven Spielberg is also a resident in the area.
Television personality Oprah Winfrey owns a 42-acre (170,000 m2) estate in the area. She began her Friday, November 14 The Oprah Winfrey Show talking about the fire and her concern for neighbors. Winfrey's house was spared, but Winfrey noted, "From now on I'll have so much more empathy and compassion for people who are going through it."
The campus of Westmont College was heavily damaged, though no injuries were reported on the campus. The college's advance planning for a shelter-in-place was credited with this favorable human outcome. 800 people (students, employees, visitors and neighbors) hunkered down in the gymnasium as the fire burned to within ten feet. The Physics Lab, Psychology Building, Math Building, and 15 of the faculty homes were destroyed. Two of the residence hall buildings in Clark residence hall were completely gutted, along with the RD cottage. With the recovery phase initiated over the weekend, faculty and staff were allowed back on campus November 17, but the school was scheduled to remain closed to students until December 1.
Mount Calvary Retreat House and Monastery
Response and resources
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County due to the Tea Fire. Schwarzenegger issued a statement that he was "making all state resources available to the fire commanders and was requesting assistance from the federal government as well."
On November 14, 2008, 1,141 personnel were on the scene, including 260 from CalFire, and 25 fire crews. They were supported by 193 engines, 7 dozers, and 1 watertender. Resources were expanded on November 15 to include 2,235 firefighters and 9 helicopters with cost estimates of $3.5 million, which increased to $3.9 million the following day.
Staffed from 8 a.m. to midnight, a public information call center was established to provide updates and status reports. Information was made available on the County Government-access television (GATV) cable TV station, as well as specific AM and FM radios that provided Emergency Public Information. CSBTV Channel 20 ran Live Video Stream.
San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara became an emergency shelter, operated by the American Red Cross, Santa Barbara County Chapter. Earl Warren Showgrounds was opened for large animal evacuees, while small animals could be brought to the Santa Barbara Humane Society in Goleta.
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- County of Santa Barbara News Release 008, November 16, 2008
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- "'Minimal threat' seen from Tea fire; containment now at 75%". The Lompoc Record. November 16, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-16.
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- Boitnott, John; Buck, Bonnie; Ebright, Olsen; Lloyd, Jonathan (2008-11-14). "13 People Injured, 100 Homes Destroyed in Montecito Blaze". NBC News. Retrieved 2008-11-15.
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- "CA MTO Tea Fire Update 3000+ Acres". California Fire News.
- Rex Huppke (2008-11-14). "Oprah: Empathy for neighbors in 'tea fire' in Montecito". Chicago Tribune.
- "Fire destroys 80 houses in Montecito". Los Angeles Times. 2008-11-14.
- "Tea Fire update from Westmont College". Westmont College. 2008-11-14.
- Lerner, Danielle (November 17, 2008). "School still out at Westmont College due to Tea Fire". msnbc.msn.com. Retrieved 2008-11-18.[dead link]
- "Mount Calvary Monastery, in Santa Barbara, CA, destroyed by fire". holycrossmonastery.com. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
- "On the morning of November 14, 2008". mount-calvary.org. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
- "Governor Schwarzenegger declares a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County". KSBY 6 Action News. 2008-11-14.
- "Emergency Declared in California Wildfire". Red Orbit.
- "Tea Fire Information Last Updated:11/16/2008 9:23:37 PM". countyofsb.org. November 16, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-17.
- Erosion Control Resources for Santa Barbara Fire Victims
- Official website, Montecito Fire District
- Coverage from the Los Angeles Times
- Coverage from the Santa Barbara Independent
- Fire information from the County of Santa Barbara
- Santa Barbara EdHat Real Time Community Discussion
- Pictures of the Westmont College campus after the fire