Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Santa Barbara fire: Couple searches for missing family member

May 7, 2009 |  6:27 pm


Barbara and Albert Lindemann went searching this morning for a family member who went missing when flames surrounded their Mission Canyon ranch house late Wednesday.

Angelina is middle-aged with gray hair and some numbers tattooed on her neck. Oh, and she's a donkey.

The Lindemanns, both history professors, rescued the wild donkey about a dozen years ago. Soon after she gave birth to a female foal, Pollyanna. Donkeys help with brush control, but to the Lindemanns, they are more pets than livestock.

Both donkeys were in their wood-fenced corral Wednesday when the Jesusita fire climbed up the canyon and into the backyard garden of the Lindemanns' adobe house, which they have called home since 1966.

Their nephew, worried the donkeys might be trapped, opened a gate and set them free.

Pollyanna ran down the road and away from the flames.

But Angelina seemed confused, the Lindemanns said, running toward the fire before she disappeared.

Early Thursday, Pollyanna came loping back up the road, whiskers singed, dazed and hungry and whinnying for her mother. There was no sign of the older donkey.

Albert Lindemann, 71, a pessimist, feared the worst, and abandoned the search early.

“I don’t like to leave the house,” he said.

“Take care of Polly,” his wife said.

“She looks so forlorn,” said their son, Tim Lindemann, 36, a glassblowing artist who lives in Santa Barbara.

He and his mother continued to search for the lost pet, walking down Tunnel Road.

As they walked the sooty road, past a mix of lush green and charred trees, Tim Lindemann used his cellphone to call neighbors whose houses he had seen built and burned. One neighbor called him from Baja, Mexico, fearing the worst, only to learn that his house had survived unscathed.

“Your house didn’t burn,” Lindemann told him, “and thanks to your pool, neither did ours.”

When the neighborhood’s water pressure had waned the night before, firefighters stuck a siphon in the pool and used the water to extinguish the final flames, Lindemann said.

Farther down the road they found a white stucco house engulfed in flames. Next door, a wood house with cordwood and lumber piled on a wooden deck was only singed.

They found no sign of Angelina.

“They’re so full of character and really sweet when you get to know them,” Barbara Lindemann said of her pets. “And very sure-footed.”

She stopped to wave to a passing television crew.

“If you see a donkey, give us a call!” she shouted.

Soon after the Lindemanns returned home about 1 p.m., daughter Erika Lindemann, 31, of Santa Barbara called with news. She had been calling the Humane Society and other animal shelters and had heard someone had found Angelina. The donkey was being held at an emergency evacuation center for large animals at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.

The family, hesitant to leave home because they feared they would not be allowed to return due to the fire evacuation, sent a friend to identify the donkey. She found three donkeys, but not Angelina.

Equine Assistance and Evacuation volunteers said a donkey fitting Angelina’s description had been sighted at the bottom of Tunnel Road on Wednesday night heading south, away from the fire.

This evening, Humane Society staff said they might have a donkey that fits Angelina’s description.

Back on Tunnel Road, the Lindemanns braced for another tense night.

Pollyanna munched orange rinds in her corral, looking alone and a bit forlorn.

Barbara Lindemann remained hopeful that the older donkey would survive the fire and return home.

“She was the one who was wild,” she said, “so she knows how to survive.”

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske


Gmapsmall Map: The Times is tracking the path of the Jesusita fire on a Google map. 
Latest: Calmer 'sundowner' winds give firefighters a break in Santa Barbara
Twitter: For live updates throughout the day, follow us on Twitter @latimescitydesk
Photos: From the scene
Big Burn: The Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning series on the cost and growth of wildfires.

Photo: Albert and Barbara Lindemann. Credit:  Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times