Short-lived but devastating, the Tea Fire began on the evening of November 13 in the dry hills of the eponymous Tea Gardens, part of a long-abandoned Montecito estate. The blaze started when strong sundowner winds reignited the smoldering remains of an illegal bonfire from the previous night.
The first flames were reported around 5:45 p.m., and Montecito firefighters responded to what they believed to be a small brush fire of one or two acres. Upon arrival, however, firefighters found the blaze rapidly expanding and out of control. Gusts in excess of 70 mph caused the fire to explode into the foothills, endangering home from Montecito to Mission Canyon.
The immediate objective for firefighters was to set an evacuation perimeter along the base of the foothills from Alameda Padre Serra to Camino Cielo as strong winds fueled the uncontrolled blaze. Support crews arrived from Los Angeles and Vandenberg Air Force Base, and from several agencies in between.
By the next morning, more than 1,500 acres had burned. Fortunately, expected sundowners — even stronger than the first night — failed to materialize. Four days later the fire was out, but it had burned nearly 2,000 acres and destroyed 210 homes.
“Breaking news and aftermath news clips about the Tea Fire, November 13, 2008.”
Video courtesy of KEYT, with permission.
“Post-Tea Fire cleanup and sandbagging ahead of threatening rainstorm.” Video courtesy of KEYT, with permission.