National News

The World Asks Santa Barbara, ‘Are You OK?’

As fires raged in the foothills of Santa Barbara County over the weekend, commiseration and concern came from around the world, from friends and colleagues in Bangladesh, Haiti and Sierra Leone.
Posted 2017-12-19T16:52:13+00:00 - Updated 2017-12-19T16:48:53+00:00

As fires raged in the foothills of Santa Barbara County over the weekend, commiseration and concern came from around the world, from friends and colleagues in Bangladesh, Haiti and Sierra Leone.

For Thomas Tighe, a resident of Montecito and the head of Direct Relief, an aid organization that dispenses medical provisions to the needy around the globe, the shoe was on the other foot — this time the emergency was his own.

Tighe and his family quickly gathered photos, drawings, birth certificates and computer hard drives. They summoned the dogs, rounded up the cats and evacuated their home on Sunday.

As they fled, the messages came in. Father Richard Frechette, the founder of a pediatric hospital in Haiti, sent an email: “Are you OK? and your home and offices? many prayers for you! Let me know if we can help you in any way!”

Tighe was shaken but safe — the fire never reached his neighborhood. Yet he felt a shared sense of vulnerability from the people he has spent a career assisting.

“People just wanted to check in,” he said. “I’m not sure they even knew what they could do. But they wanted to extend an offer. It’s really quite touching from people who themselves have very little.”

By Monday night the Thomas fire, the largest of the Southern California blazes, had reached a milestone: It was 50 percent contained. Calmer winds quieted the fire, which has burned 271,000 acres, the third largest fire in modern California history. Gusts are expected later in the week and Cal Fire estimates that 18,000 homes and businesses are still threatened.

With his family sheltered with friends and relatives, Tighe went back to work Monday — he flew to Puerto Rico, where Direct Relief has been the largest donor of medical supplies in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

He received a message on his phone Monday that the mandatory evacuation in his neighborhood had been lifted. He will soon return to California hoping that the fires still raging in the wild lands above Montecito, stay there.

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