Written by Anthony Veerkamp
More than 20,000 residents of Santa Barbara have been evacuated and thousands of properties are in peril as the Jesusita Wildfire burns out of control in the hills immediately surrounding the historic oceanside community. Mandatory evacuation orders cover most of Santa Barbara north of Highway 101, including the historic Mission Santa Barbara, while evacuation warnings encompass much of downtown Santa Barbara.
Already, many dozens of homes have been lost, including the century-old Gane House, the first documented historic casualty to the blaze. The Craftsman-style Gane House was part of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in Mission Canyon.
"Obviously we're very heartbroken. It's a large, large loss for us," said Nancy Johnson, the garden's vice president of marketing and government relations. "We were hoping to restore it to its grandeur."
Johnson said firefighters "made a valiant effort to save our other buildings," including the herbarium, the library and library annex and the rare book room. "They really worked hard yesterday to save those buildings so we're really appreciative of that."
She also said the garden was saved by a decision last year to spend between $300,000 and $400,000 on six hydrants. "The firefighters told us that had those hydrants not been installed, they couldn't have saved the other buildings," she said.
The Jesusita Fire comes less than six months after last November’s devastating Tea Fire, which burned 20,000 acres and destroyed over 200 homes as well as the historic Mount Calvary Retreat House.
Earlier this year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Santa Barbara one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations. In making the designation, the National Trust noted the legendary beauty of the city and it setting, stating that the town and country form a distinctive cultural and natural landscape that is more than the sum of its parts. National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe said it best: “once you have experienced Santa Barbara’s vitality and extraordinary character, you won’t ever want to leave.”
Today, the future of much of that heritage may be determined by the speed of Santa Barbara’s “sundowner winds.” We will provide updates as they become available.
Anthony Veerkamp is the senior program officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation Western Office.
Updated May 11, 2009 to add photos submitted from the Upham Hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of America located in Santa Barbara.
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