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Letter from Jamie

Dear friends of the flock,
On Thursday evening the 13th of November just before six I was sitting at the computer with my African grey, Babu when I got a call from a friend. A fire had been just been reported in Montecito near Westmont College.

My mother lives right next to Westmont College. Across the canyon is Harry and Phoebe Linden’s Santa Barbara Bird Farm. My sister Jodi confirmed that Mom had captured the cats, gathered vital belongings and fled the fire with cats in tow.
My next call was to the Lindens…….Phoebe said, “Yes, we could use your help if you can get here in 5 minutes, twenty might be too late.” In the Sycamore Canyon fire in 1977, the Lindens lost their home including all the aviaries and their beloved flock. The Tea fire was giving them something that the Sycamore Fire did not….time to get their birds out.

While still on the phone I threw my bird evacuation carriers and cages into the car, grabbed my sister Jodi and a bird net. With my good friend Linda Wudl following behind us in her car we set off. Avoiding sheriff’s department roadblocks and closed roads we raced together across Montecito hoping we could get to the Lindens ahead of the fire.

Panic spreading; the roads were clogged with people, cars and even horses being led to safety. I could see the ridge above my Mom’s house was now engulfed in flames. The wind driving the fire also spread smoke so thick that my eyes burned. Ashes and burning embers rained down on us as we arrived. We found Phoebe and Harry had captured more than half their birds and put them in carriers.

Still to be caught were a pair of terrified Green-winged Macaws and a panicked pair of Blue and Gold Macaws who had holed up in nest boxes refusing to come out. Phoebe was scurrying about managing numerous volunteers and evacuating all the house birds and important belongings. Harry was out back in the yard evacuating the aviaries on the hillside over the canyon facing Westmont College. Being suspended, the aviaries are not designed for walking inside as the floor was chain link up on poles off the ground. Planks were thrown on the bottom to walk on rather like a teeter totter. I gingerly crawled in the aviary balanced on the plank with a crate and net and waited for Harry to flush them out.

I looked across the canyon as walls of fire raced downhill fed by the whirling winds; I watched with a breaking heart as houses were rapidly consumed by a fire that hop scotched across the canyon. A ground shaking ka-boom was heard and felt as an outbuilding at Westmont exploded sending a tower of bomb like flames into the air.

On that note the macaws left their not so safe after all nest box and I managed to quickly net and stuff them both into a crate while teetering on a two by four. We repeated the same scenario with next pair as the fire sped down the canyon. The rest of the assorted birds Harry and I quickly caught and crated while Jodi relayed the captured birds to waiting vehicles.

All the birds were then transported across town to a warehouse where Harry, Phoebe and the birds spent the long night wondering if their home would survive.
On Friday, ignoring evacuation orders and closed roads, Harry went to see if he still had a house. With prayers answered Harry found his house still standing. My Mom was unable to get back in but thought it was a good sign, that when she called her house the answering machine picked up.

When I next spoke to Harry everyone was back in their aviaries, seemingly no worse for the wear. I was quite thrilled to hear from him that Montecito’s wild flock of amazons, who had been coming to their house each after- noon, for decades, had put in an appearance and all ten birds were accounted for. Mom still has a house. Miracles do happen.

We all know there is a lesson here. Before we forget and go back to life in paradise please make sure you have an evacuation plan. Get to know your neighbors. Fire is a fact of life here. It will happen again.

Jamie McLeod

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