Danger was in the air. Desperation was on the airwaves.
“Creative Care Pre-School and Amigos Day Care are evacuating,” listeners to Santa Barbara radio station KTMS-AM learned as the 4,000-acre brush fire continued to rage at the edge of the city. “Parents, please come pick up your children.”
For a 30-hour period that ended Friday, the station tossed out its commercials and regular programming and transformed itself into an on-the-air bulletin board for emergency pleas.
Some were the official kind issued by authorities and the firefighters’ command post. Others weren’t.
“Would anybody near the little house behind the white picket fence on San Marcos Road please bring out the animals? A parakeet is in the back room . . . a goat is in the yard. The gate code is 22088,” pleaded one message.
“The La Cumbre Mutual Water Co. area between Puente to 154, the Hope Ranch Annex and Hope Ranch--because of the loss of electricity, they are on emergency water use only. They are asking that no one use washing machines, showers or dishwashers,” said another.
Such messages kept listeners throughout the city glued to their radios. Residents stopped at roadblocks set up around the fire’s perimeter listened intently in their cars. Merchants and office workers hovered near radios normally tuned to background music.
At the Cathedral Oaks Lodge, front desk clerk Debbie Michael listened sadly as an urgent request was aired: “The Goleta Valley Hospital asks that the employer of Joe Foster contact them. He is believed to be a shipping clerk. He has been burned and they need to know about his insurance coverage for a special bed.”
On Stearns Wharf, souvenir shop worker Debbie Johnson paused to listen between sales of postcards and tourist knickknacks to pier visitors. “A little while ago I heard them say that two parents are missing their child,” Johnson said.
KTMS program manager Rick Bailey said hundreds of callers left messages either pleading for help or offering it. Dozens volunteered use of pickup trucks to help evacuees. Scores offered free rooms to those whose homes were destroyed. Others offered to take in pets.
“Sandy Hoag on Mesa has room for a dog that’s friendly and for six or more small birds,” said the announcer.
Hours before an official disaster list was released, announcer Robert Banks drove through the fire zone to check hard-hit neighborhoods that remained closed off to residents.
“I took addresses of destroyed houses off mailboxes,” he said. “When I got back, I talked with people who called about their streets. A lady asked about Modoc Street. She gave me her address and I told her I was sorry, but her whole block was leveled. She started crying. I apologized for being the one to tell her.”
As the fire burned into its second day, announcer Brian Green and ad salesman Tom Crockett took turns reading messages that were turning increasingly more personal.
“Annie Hogue, your family is looking for you. Bart Bramwell, call Diana Lomas. Judy Jennings call Sherry or Kit,” Green read.