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Residents in Yorba Linda resist evacuation order

Rosenblatt is a Times staff writer.

In neighborhood after neighborhood, hardly anyone in Yorba Linda’s fire-ravaged areas seemed to be heeding Tuesday’s voluntary evacuation order. But they sure were ready: on Lotus Avenue in the Box Canyon area, nearly every single home was bunkered with sandbags piled three deep lining the driveways and garages.

The evacuation order went out early Tuesday to residents in the Box Canyon, Brush Canyon and North Fairmont-San Antonio neighborhoods hard hit by wildfires. Officials fear the burned hillsides are the most vulnerable to mud and debris flows from Chino Hills State Park.

An evacuation order was also issued late Tuesday in Santa Barbara County for residents in the Tea fire burn area, including Sycamore Canyon. An evacuation center was being set up at Santa Barbara High School.

The Tea fire, the first in a ravaging series of brush fires, burned hundreds of homes in and around Montecito.

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The blaze that swept through Yorba Linda destroyed or damaged more than 180 homes in the north Orange County city and blackened the steep hillsides.

Despite the evacuation order, Erik Irwin, for one, wasn’t going anywhere Tuesday. The 20-year-old had hiked back into his Yorba Linda neighborhood during the fires against authorities’ orders, where he wielded a garden hose to help protect his parents’ house from spot fires just feet away. Nearby, a maintenance shed had burned to the ground.

“There’s no way they’re going to make any one of us leave,” he said of his neighbors. He and another neighbor analyzed the slopes, theorizing what direction flowing mud might take.

“To tell you the truth, I’m getting really tired of the natural disaster stuff.”

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The racket from city crews installing a concrete barrier at the base of the hillside kept some residents up overnight. By Tuesday midday, a swift water rescue unit from the Orange County Fire Authority surveyed the neighborhood, asking residents about previous flooding problems. The unit was working to identify possible trouble spots and provide a presence in Yorba Linda and Santiago Canyon, said Capt. Jack Perisho.

Around the corner, Stuart Nichols was piling sandbags against the base of his garage. The consultant, who lives on Foxtail Drive -- also exposed to burnt slopes -- said his family was staying put for the moment but had a few overnight bags packed just in case. They were also taking keepsakes, such as their children’s baby pictures, to a friend to store.

The city, Nichols said, “didn’t respond very well when the fires came.” With the well-publicized mudslide warnings, “they’re trying to overcompensate, over-communicate.”

The family had planned to go to Havasu for the holiday but was probably going to scuttle that trip because of the forecast.

“I’m ready for 2008 to be done,” said Nichols, 44.

Brian Janney was still heading to see in-laws in Sacramento for Thanksgiving, debris flows or no.

“I’m definitely nervous to be leaving,” Janney said as he packed the family’s Suburban and his small son and daughter played in the yard behind him. But he’s confident neighbors on the tight-knit Lotus Avenue will keep him posted. He stayed behind during the fires to keep an eye on his and others’ houses.

Some neighbors said volunteers helped distribute the heavy bags Saturday. Late Tuesday morning a couple of residents loaded sandbags piled in the community park into their trucks and SUVs.

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The Janneys have invited another family whose house was destroyed in the fire to use their home for the long holiday weekend.

In the Brush Canyon area, also under a voluntary evacuation, a crew of prisoners led by firefighters lined backyards with thousands of sandbags. Some created flood channels between houses to divert mud into yards. Workers with earthmovers pushed concrete barriers into place to direct the rainwater away from homes.

Residents there expressed a sense of evacuation fatigue, with many having returned from fire evacuations just over a week ago. Unlike the wildfire response, the city seemed to be throwing resources into massive preparation for the expected storm, some neighbors there said.

A few Brush Canyon residents said they had packed a bag or made a hotel reservation to be safe but weren’t planning on leaving unless the hillside gave way.

A small sign on one Brush Canyon corner read “God bless our neighbors for protecting our homes! Thank you!!”

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com

Times staff writers Tami Abdollah and James Wagner contributed to this report.

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