Environment & Science

Santa Barbara family describes preparations for Jesusita fire's assault

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The Jesusita fire in Santa Barbara destroyed dozens of homes in May. But not the one at the very top of Mission Canyon. The Lindemann family stayed behind during the fire. KPCC’s Molly Peterson has the story of the way the Lindemanns prepared to help defend their home.

For retired UC Santa Barbara professors Al and Barbara Lindemann and their son, Tim, staying put wasn’t a whim. They had made a checklist, a dozen or so things, and felt strong on all points. They had consulted family members who were firefighters, they had talked with neighbors in Mission Canyon, and with those neighbors had done brush clearance in the area.

Al says it was his single mission to get his house ready. "Obsession, is more the proper word," Tim leans in to say. "We've been here during many many fires in the area," says Barbara. "So every time there was a fire, Al studied what had happened in that fire and listened to the cases and listened to what the firefighters had to say and made more preparations in his own house."

Lindemann and his family had left when earlier fires threatened. He didn't fear staying this time, though. "For 40 years, I've been preparing for this, now you're telling me I have to put my tail between my legs and run out. No! I'm going to fight!"

Like Albert, Barbara knows the area's ecology well. Tim Lindemann grew up here, and majored in biology before becoming a glass artist. The three of them point out redwoods and little waterfalls along Mission Creek, below their property.

That awareness of the environment paid off. Barbara Lindemann says the family followed fire agency recommendations for clearing brush and planting fire-resistant plants. “It’s important in these areas to strike a balance between being cleared for fire and not interfering with the native habitat.” Closer to the house, succulent, drought-tolerant plants

The family also invested heavily in gear. Tim and Al Lindemann bought sprinkler systems, hoses, and metal roll down window shutters. Ideally, he says, houses would have their own water supplies – a cistern, with a pump, or a swimming pool. That kind of a system comes with a hefty price tag. "It's almost like living up in this area you have to figure your expenses of that sort are going to be much, much greater," Al says.

Still, preparation isn’t just about gear. Barbara Lindemann says knowing her neighbors saved her house too. She ticks off the ways on her hand: they get together and keep up-to-date lists of phone numbers; they know where each others' gas shutoffs are, and where the water hoses are; they have keys to each others' houses. The Lindemanns aren't the only longtime residents up in tight-knit Mission Canyon.

All three Lindemanns harbor plenty of opinions now about home fire defense. Barbara makes the case for community involvement. Al thinks residents in the wildland-urban interface should pay more for fire protection and insurance. Tim believes letting people rebuild without tightening building codes is "silly."

The evidence for their arguments, they say, is the house under their feet – and, for that matter, a neighbor's house down the way. "My neighbor said he complained, gah, all those regulations," says Al, "and now he's saying, boy, I'm glad they made me do that."

That neighbor’s house is the only other one they could see from where they live, some weeks after the fire.

Al, Barbara, and Tim describe what it was like to stay behind during the Jesusita Fire. To hear more of that part of the Lindemanns' story, listen to part 1.