In May's Jesusita fire, one Santa Barbara family who stayed behind

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Six months ago, the Jesusita fire destroyed 80 houses in Santa Barbara. Dozens of homeowners in an area called Mission Canyon are still rebuilding. Not Albert Lindemann. The retired history professor and his family helped to defend their home during the fire – but they say staying behind isn’t for everyone. KPCC’s Molly Peterson visited the family at the top of Santa Barbara’s Tunnel Road.

Al Lindemann's eyes narrow against the sun as he points up behind his house, toward a ridgeline. His property shares a boundary with a national forest. Lindemann wears a look of concentration that contrasts with the friendly grin he wore to greet a visitor to his house moments before. What he's looking at, up the ridge, once was 20 feet high, thick with chaparral and native plants. Weeks after the fire, it's bare.

Forty-some years ago, Al and his wife Barbara made their home in Mission Canyon. Now they've raised two children, and retired from teaching at UC Santa Barbara. Their son, Tim, lives in downtown Santa Barbara these days. His glass studio and his inspiration still live in the Santa Barbara mountains where he grew up.

Tim, Al and Barbara Lindemann spill words and phrases all over each other as they talk. They interrupt each other to chime in about what the fire took away – a favorite apricot tree, for example; an old piece of fence that may not have been properly protected by fire-retardant gel. But it's clear they're counting their blessings, too, as they describe years of preparation as other fires threatened, but not as close: the Zaca fire, the Tea fire.

Tim and his parents stayed behind during this Jesusita fire, even after a mandatory evacuation was called. Along with Al's brother and other firefighters, Tim and Al put out embers during the most active period of the Jesusita Fire.

Nobody slept well; weeks after the fire, they say they were still irritable, tired, having trouble breathing. Al reports that a neighbor, a military man, said the fire itself was like combat. He doesn't like that analogy. The fire was a constant threat, but intense, he says, intense like combat, just for an hour or so as it passed.

Al Lindemamn did make his house defensible. Still he says he believes he has been lucky – first in finding his Mission Canyon house, then in protecting it. And this is the biggest topic on which the Lindemann family can't stop interrupting each other, just to stress its importance, just to make sure that everybody knows. They believe, strongly, deeply, that staying and defending is possible, but it takes an enormous amount of work, of investment, of time and money poured into the cause for years and years.

“I don’t regret coming here. I don’t regret staying," Al says. "But I do think a lot of people have to think very very carefully.”

The Lindemanns explained their preparations for fire in great detail, too. To hear more of that part of their story, listen to part 2.