Romero Fire Sparked 50 Years Ago

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Romero Fire Sparked 50 Years Ago
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Source: Montecito Fire Department

On this day 50 years ago, the Romero Fire was started in the hills above Montecito.

An arsonist ignited the fire in the dry hillsides near Bella Vista Drive on the afternoon of Oct. 6, 1971. Within a half-hour, smoke was visible from Montecito & Summerland.


Photo: MFD

Firefighters from across the South Coast responded immediately but that evening, sundowners pushed the fire downslope, burning 4 homes in the area of Bella Vista Dr & Ladera Ln.

After the fire burned through Toro Cyn, a plan was made to cut a fire break through Santa Monica Cyn.


Photo: MFD

An unexpected windstorm caused erratic fire behavior and bulldozer crews became surrounded by flames. Several escaped with severe burns but tragically, 4 were killed when the fire trapped them on the ridge top.

15,600 acres burned. 4 homes destroyed. 4 lives lost.


Photo: MFD

The Romero Fire reminds us that fall is the season for powerful sundowners. As we honor & remember our fallen firefighters, please consider your wildfire action plan. Review Ready! Set! Go! here: https://bit.ly/3yGbJsH


(photo of fatality site memorial courtesy of Ray Ford)

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Lucky 777 Oct 07, 2021 10:26 AM
Romero Fire Sparked 50 Years Ago

Speaking of the "then attractive median" of the 101, all those lovely oleander bushes, red and white, used to be such a nice visual statement. The way I remember it they were all removed in the 1980's to widen the freeway and take out the wide emergency lane in the center. One year on July 4th I was coming home from partying in Isla Vista and saw a man on the side of the freeway waving a bloody shirt.... he had lost control of his car and it was invisible, wedged in the oleander. He had crawled out and was badly injured. I went past and thought "Was that a hallucination?" then figured if there was even a chance he was real I'd better stop. I took him up to St Francis Hospital and the nurses told me he would have bled out if not helped. I remember he kept telling me I was an angel as I rushed him up there. * And the other thing is that the summer they removed all the oleanders we all had to carry bandannas and be constantly blowing our noses because the decades of toxic leaves turned to dust were being kicked up into the air by passing traffic and the construction.

Curmudgeon Oct 06, 2021 05:22 PM
Romero Fire Sparked 50 Years Ago

I was at San Ysidro Ranch at the time and by luck and good fortune the fire miraculously missed us while fire engines stood by to defend. A harrowing night and experience!

Speaking of old photos, does anyone have photos of the 101 between El Sueno and Turnpike before the Painted Cave fire (Paint Fire) took out all the freeway vegetation and trees on both sides and in the then attractive median?

Curmudgeon Oct 07, 2021 08:27 AM
Romero Fire Sparked 50 Years Ago

ZENYATTA19 - I was helping evacuate elderly that night. Looking at the denuded freeway area since then, I wanted to refresh my memory as to how appealing it was before the fire.

Zenyatta19 Oct 07, 2021 12:45 AM
Romero Fire Sparked 50 Years Ago

Carmudgeon I have photos from the NP of that area during the actual evacuation from the Paint Fire. The 101 was shut down because the fire jumped all six lanes. Cars were backed up with nowhere to go. People turned around and went the wrong way up the Turnpike south bound on ramp, which caused a major cluster of cars going every which way.

SBTownie Oct 06, 2021 04:58 PM
Romero Fire Sparked 50 Years Ago

Interesting history. I do not in any way mean to detract from or disrespect the lives lost, but I really enjoyed seeing the old picture of the San Ysidro intersection here. I would love to see more old photos of SB on EdHat.

FernaldPoint93108 Oct 06, 2021 03:55 PM
Romero Fire Sparked 50 Years Ago

I remember everyone talking about it while I was in school. I also did not know there were fatalities. How terrible.

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