MONTECITO, California. – A few weeks after his return to homes threatened by one of the worst fires in the history of California, hundreds of residents of Montecito, an exclusive enclave of the rich and famous, found themselves in another life-or-death situation.
The heavy rains that mud, huge rocks and other debris roaring down hills stripped of the last month’s wildfire is flattened at least 100 houses, killed at least 17 people and hundreds more fleeing for their lives.
Here are some of their stories:
AN OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST OF THE NARROW ESCAPE
When the fire threatened their Montecito home last month, Jeff Farrell, and his wife, Gabrielle, have fled, while their son stayed behind to watch over the family home, which survived the flames.
When a voluntary evacuation order was issued for their area ahead of Tuesday’s devastating storm, but the 81-year-old Farrell, who won two gold medals in swimming at the Olympic games of 1960, decided to continue, this time with his 71-year-old woman.
“There was evacuation fatigue of the fire,” their son, Marco Farrell said. “I would have preferred for them to leave and in retrospect we should have left. I don’t know how I sleep.”
When he went outside to check things in the pouring rain before dawn Tuesday, the real estate agent said he heard the rumble of an approaching flash flood.
He quickly ran back inside to warn his parents, get there about a minute before a boulder crashed through the kitchen door. It would be followed by a debris flow that quickly caught the family in thigh-high mud.
After going over different escape plan, the family decided that it was best to wait things out until the debris flow was settled. When it did they climbed out of their home of 40 years, with their three-legged dog, Luke, and were rescued by a passing fire truck.
Asked what he would do if his family is ever the recipient of any other voluntary evacuation order, Marco Farrell’s response was succinct: “Sure.”
RAVAGES IN A TOWN WHERE EVERYONE KNOWS EACH OTHER
Jennifer Markham could not let the tears flow as the 43-year-old stay-at-home mother and her children struggle through the mud and debris Wednesday, try to return to their Montecito home.
“We totally thought we were out of the woods,” said Markham, whose house survived the last month of the wildfire. “I was frozen yesterday morning thinking, ‘This is a million times worse than that fire ever was.'”
Her home survived the mudslide, but 100 or more others is not, and at least 17 people lost their lives in a city, so small that Markham said: “everyone knows someone who this happened to.”
“The destruction and the number of families lost,” she said, crying. “Everyone was prepared for the fire. No one expected this. Never. Not even close.”
SAFE, BUT TRAPPED WITH NO WAY BACK
A last-minute decision to take in a punk rock concert in Los Angeles held Justin and ridley scott, and Alyssa Saldana a safe distance from the beating of the storm that wreaked death and devastation, but left them trapped in their car when they tried to return to the University of California, Santa Barbara, for the final exams.
Deckard, 19, and Saldana, 18, spent much of Wednesday nervously pacing outside the parked car traffic as a back-up for miles in the city of Carpinteria, south of Santa Barbara. The devastating storm had caused mudslides, which are located off of Highway 101, the main route to Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, in a raging river of mud and debris, closing it in both directions until at least Monday.
“We have this very spontaneously, not thinking about the storm,” Deckard said of the trip to Los Angeles.
The couple had resigned themselves to sleep in their car until a former professor invited them to his house in Ventura. Now, their main concern was how they would get back to school in time for this week’s finale.
Another couple, Steve and Rita Fisk, was taking the scenic route along the coast back home to Oregon when they were stranded in Carpinteria. The couple, on the road in their RV, because for the holidays, and were considering trying to find on a domestic route.
“We are retired, so we are not in a hurry,” said Steve Fisk. “We feel horrible for everyone who lost their homes.”
Associated Press Writers Frank Baker and Amanda Lee Myers contributed to this story from Los Angeles. Rogers reported from Los Angeles.