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.
So many of you want to help Harry and me as we begin the arduous task of cleaning up after the fire. Thank you!! Even though everything is covered in soot, we take our cue from Percy Lou and the 47 other safe parrots: sing while cleaning. We are sooooo happy to have a home and to be home. The one most important thing everyone can do — well, two things — first, be prepared yourselves! Second, please make a donation to Jamie McLeod’s SB Bird Sanctuary (sbbird.org). Any amount is welcome! (Hopefully, they’ll get some new emergency carriers with the funds! 🙂 Also, they are caring for many displaced parrots right now! sbbird.org (all donations are tax deductible!!) So, the flames are towers roaring down the mountain headed smack towards our back yard. Our friends* are prepping carriers but Harry and I don’t know if we have enough time. A part of my brain is wondering, will I have to decide who to take and who to leave? The columns twirl in the wind. Smoke and ash smack us as we work. Lots of the birds hurry right into their carriers: they’ve got the whole “emergency” message!
I load Josserlynn and Garcia in the van, turn, and see out of the smoke, Jamie McLeod. Oh my goddess goodness, Jamie. The relief I feel — she’s got carriers and she’s moving fast — is overwhelming even now. The moment I saw Jamie I knew we had a chance to get everyone out. ** Right behind Jamie is Jodi, sister terrific. Linda Wudl! God bless you, bless you, bless you. Jamie is right – it was a hellish night, but seeing those angels in the smoke provided the yin to the yang. Please consider opening your heart and wallets to support the selfless work of the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary, a not for profit 501c3 organization where parrots find a flock and much, much more. Any amount is appreciated. Jamie, Jodi, Linda — you are my heros! I am full of gratitude for you and confident that your good works will continue and that support will come for you — as it did for me — out of smoke and ash.
Santa Barbara Bird Farm
*friends on the spot: Barbara and John who stayed throughout, Arnulfo our son/brother, Patty Keller an angel, too, Hiladio the strong and his helper. Elly and Michael!
** Many who know me know that I *always* say, If I had to give an injection to a rhino, I’d want Jamie to be helping me. Her competence is amazing, friends. Just amazing — this woman can accomplish with non-human species the utterly impossible. There is no one better in an emergency than Jamie. I thank God for her anew. Please help me tell her the value of her specialness.
Dearest Phoebe and Harry,
The birds and I are eternally grateful for your effusive gratitude and most especially for your plea to friends for support to the Sanctuary. More carriers are definitely in order as are funds to support our ever growing flock. I’m overjoyed that your home and flock are safe and sound and that my help made a difference. I only did what needed to be done as quickly as possible. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, for the birds! Just promise me you won’t be getting rhinos anytime soon!