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Santa Barbara fire: Evacuees cheer as sheriff says they can return home

May 9, 2009 |  1:56 pm

Cheers rose inside the UC Santa Barbara MAC Center when Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown announced to evacuees taking refuge there that most of them would be able to return home.

As he called out street names, people responded “That’s me!”  They folded up blankets and went to their cars which most had turned into mobile garages to hold their belongings. Many had been displaced for several days and the air around the cots had grown a bit stale.

Diane Lacey, 44, had spent time in her car to get away from the noise and buzz of the center. She was headed into the center to see if her street was on the list. “Heck, yeah, I get to go home,” she said. She had been staying at the shelter since Thursday night.  Mostly she was worried about her cats, Bubbie and Beebz. They were at the animal shelter. First priority -- pick them up.

Britney Ayers, 23, a student, and her grandfather, George Wasco, 77, had spent two days at the center.  Ayers, who had her laptop with her, spent the time working on an English paper. Now she gathered up her computer and clothes and was ready to return to home. 

“We’re relieved,” said Ayers. “We finally get to go home.” 

For some, the trauma of being evacuated was replaced by the adventure of getting to meet Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who paid a visit to the evacuation center.

“I actually got to meet the governor, and I took my picture with him. I still can’t believe it,” said Dawn Naranjo, 43.  She and her roommate, Kathy Taylor, 45, arrived at the evacuation center Friday afternoon.  They had hustled to leave their home, south of Foothill Road near State Street, dropping off their seven hamsters and four birds at a pet store.

Dawn said when they return home today they would be spending the rest of the day trying to make their animals feel comfortable.

 “It was so good to be able to come to a place where everyone was so sweet and we felt so safe,” said Taylor echoing others’ praise for the Red Cross staff that runs the evacuation center.  At its peak, the center had 600 evacuees. This morning, when the governor visited it was down to 60 to 70 and about 50 staff members.

-- Esmeralda Bermudez


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