Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire

Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire title=
Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire
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By Robert Bernstein

I had visitors on Tuesday and I took them to Lizard's Mouth for an easy outing. One is a friend Virginia in San Francisco and the other is her friend Connie visiting from Singapore. Virginia does not like appearing publicly in photos, but here are some photos of our little outing.

We entered what I call the "back way" from the furthest end from the Winchester Gun Club. We then made our way toward the nose of the lizard. It was very windy up there, but we sat down for a bit to enjoy the view and snack on Mandarin oranges.

As I looked to the east from where we started I saw smoke rising from behind the big cave. It was 6:48PM and I took this photo.

I thought maybe some kids had just set off a smoke bomb. So I moved around for a better view. Then I saw a bit of a flame. I called 911 to report a wildfire. Unfortunately, the 911 dispatcher was in another city and had no idea what I was talking about. I told them to Google the Winchester Gun Club and estimated it is about a quarter of a mile back on the road from there. And a few hundred feet toward the ocean from the road.

It took a few rounds on the phone to talk to someone who understood what I was describing and he assured us that help was on the way. He warned us to take care not to get trapped. But the wind was blowing steadily away from the road so it was unlikely we would have a problem. I told the dispatcher that we would go to the closest access point on the road and wait for the firefighters.

After awhile, the first group of firefighters came out along West Camino Cielo and I showed them the closest access point. They were from the San Marcos Pass Volunteer Fire Department. They said they are based at the Trout Club. At 7:22PM I got this video of the first firefighter entering the area.

What mystified me is how a fire could have started in this area. It is nowhere near the actual mouth of the lizard that most people go to. And it was below the rocky ridge where most people would walk. Here is my video of the first firefighters working out strategy and discussing whether a helicopter should be called in.


This firefighter warned us to be careful as the flames started to kick up.

And at the end of this clip you can see some of those flames.

Eventually, Santa Barbara County Fire showed up and they started using water hoses on the fire and they started cutting brush with a chain saw to move fuel away from the fire.

You may recognize Santa Barbara County Fire Public Information Officer Mike Eliason who was on the scene to document what was happening.
Many more firefighters streamed in at this point.

Their efforts seemed to be successful in stopping the fire. The helicopter request was canceled. Mike Eliason explained that the firefighters would be there all night making sure it was completely out. Here was the scene on West Camino Cielo as we headed out.

It was 8:18PM when I made that video and we headed out as others came in to watch what was happening.

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sbrobert Jul 23, 2021 04:58 PM
Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire

Thank you all for the kind words and for the interesting discussions. An investigator from the Forest Service called me the next day to interview me at length. I felt frustrated that there was very little useful information I could offer. I told him at one point a firefighter shouted out "I see where it started" but he was not aware of any such information.

I do wish that I took some photos at least of the cars along the road after seeing the fire and on our way to meet the firefighters. Even if none of them were responsible, they might have had other helpful information.

I rarely use a cell phone except if I am travelling or in an emergency like this. It seems as if the system can and should be improved to put the caller in touch with someone closer to the calling area. In this case it just took a bit of persistence to reach someone who understood the reference points I was offering to them.

I very much hope we will get a clear resolution of how the fire started. The investigator told me it may take a few weeks, but probably not longer than that. If I don't hear back from him in a few weeks he told me I can follow up with him directly.

Thanks again, everyone. We all do need to stay vigilant.

ESL_teacher Jul 23, 2021 02:19 PM
Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire

A friend has pointed out that a piece of broken glass can focus the rays of the sun and start a fire in dry grass, although that is admittedly extremely rare.

yin yang Jul 22, 2021 09:39 PM
Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire

Yay Robert! SO GLAD YOU WERE THERE. No one better, except maybe Ray Ford. ;-)
(I realize many could have been as helpful. Hardly anyone else would or could have documented it like this.)
I'm very grateful for the aid and the coverage. Cheers, Robert!

Bird Jul 23, 2021 09:57 AM
Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire

I agree: thanks for the report and, especially, thanks for knowing how to report it and being persistent!!! .... Hurrah, too, to your friend, Virginia. I loathe selfies and too many stories feature pictures of the reporter; unlike Jerry Roberts' and Josh Molina's podcasts, most public interest stories are not improved by selfies.

ljp93105 Jul 22, 2021 04:07 PM
Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire

9-1-1 from a cellphone is very different from 9-1-1 from a landline.
With a (true) landline, the system knows the address at the end of the telephone wires, and makes that address available to the PSAP (Public Service Answering Point) operator.
With an Internet-based (VoIP) "landline"an address is registered for the account, but if you were to take the telephone device to someone else's house and plug it in there, it will show your registered home address to the operator.
With a cellphone, it all depends on which celltower picks you up, and how well the IT departments of the phine company and the county sherriff work together.

FollowingScienc... Jul 23, 2021 12:38 PM
Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire

Thanks for explaining this so accurately; many do not know.

When teaching BLS/ACLS, one of the first thing I tell my students is to call 911 *FROM A LANDLINE* if at all possible so that Dispatch can determine your location. Obviously when hiking, etc. this is not possible so knowing/having/conveying accurate geographic points of reference (as the author did) will be critical in getting help to you.

Well-done Mr. Bernstein; BRAVO.

a-1626987247 Jul 22, 2021 01:54 PM
Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire

It's a good idea to take photos of other cars in the area where you park in case you need to remember who else might have been up there at the time...

SantaBarbaraObserver Jul 23, 2021 06:58 AM
Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire

Good idea? What kind of Whacko thinks its a good idea to take pics of every car, person or other object everywhere they go? A paranoid and delusional person, that's who... This is beyond normal and frankly, borders on insane.

Zenyatta19 Jul 23, 2021 12:22 AM
Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire

A wildfire in this area is no joke. If it had been windy, this situation could have been deadly. Every car or person in the near vicinity should be questioned. Nothing spontaneously combusted.

ParvoPup Jul 22, 2021 09:44 PM
Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire

While I get your point, it still comes across as somewhat Orwellian with the whole "citizen being cop" vibe.

I get that this is the norm in China or Hong Kong or Eastern Bloc countries - just not sure that I dig this attitude here.

Then again, half the houses in town conduct covert surveillance of their neighbors with their Ring doorbells and their SimpliSafe house cameras.

I make ugly rat faces into every house camera I come to in my line of work.

Rebellious, I know, probably have to go a rehab camp one day to learn to conform. I hear lobotomies are fun.

"I've got this feeling, somebody's watching me"....

elaz Jul 22, 2021 12:46 PM
Hiking During the Lizard's Mouth Fire

THANK YOU, Robert!
You were in the right place at the right time, with the knowledge to act quickly and provide accurate information. I'm sure you were instrumental in preventing this fire from getting bigger. And I'm GRATEFUL!
(I didn't know that 911 calls could be answered by someone not in the area. That's troubling. Until 10 years ago I didn't know it was possible to get a busy signal when dialing 91 1 either, until it happened to me following an accident on the freeway.)

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