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Montecito residents assess fire damage

November 17, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The wave of firestorms all began Thursday with the Tea Fire, a wind-whipped blaze that charred nearly 2,000 acres and destroyed more than 200 homes in the community of Montecito and city of Santa Barbara. People in Montecito checked to see what, if anything, they had left Monday. Many of the victims of the fires are sifting through their homes, looking for precious mementos. In this community, the devastation all around is real. Some residents were too distraught to be interviewed.

The Tea Fire in Montecito came in like a blowtorch, leaving more than 200 homes in ashes. Dr. Dennis Diernefield lost his dream home looking over the ocean, a home he built almost 30 years ago.

"Pretty heartsick about that. Put a lot of time and effort into building it, and this is home," said Dr. Diernefield.

"You can look down over a bluff. It's ... everything is just gone," said Brian Smith, another homeowner.

Brian Smith weeps for his grandfather, whose home of 35 years was torched.

"I've eaten Christmas in this house every since I was a baby," said Smith. "They grabbed what they could but everything they had is just ... everything they couldn't grab is just up in smoke."

Within the last few months Southern California has burned several times, leaving homes and lives shattered.

"It's horrible for all the people who lost their homes and it's devastating to hundreds of families," said Smith.

Residents are thankful for the efforts of firefighters.

The Tea Fire destroyed Brad Paola's garage. A fire crew saved his home. With so much destruction around him, his sigh of relief is bittersweet.

"Maybe you're not supposed to smile when disaster strikes, but if you don't it's like optimist and pessimist. You're better off half full than half empty," said Paola.

"At this point, all that one can do is go and try to rebuild," said Brian Smith.

Some of victims of the fire said even though they lost everything, they do have their lives.


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