*** One day after a friend of Pam Nelson and Robert “Cookie” Fortune’s GoFundMe page was created, almost $9,000 has been raised***

***Today at The Crooked Path in Los Olivos donations for firefighters will be collected from bottled water, energy bars, packaged cookies, Gatorade etc., can be dropped off to be taken to the firelines for our brave men and women fighting this fire. Cash donations will be accepted which they’ll turn into the above supplies. The Crooked Path is located by the flagpole in Los Olivos, between the park and Jedlickas For details contact Ronn Cobb 805-325-3226***

Robert “Cookie” Fortune and Pam Nelson

Minutes to spare, Camp Whittier staff rush to safety

By Raiza Giorgi

Pam Nelson said from the time she heard the initial call over the Camp Whittier radio it was half an hour later that she was driving away from her home where her and husband Robert “Cookie” Fortune lived.

“My husband retired and took a part-time job about eight years ago as maintenance for the camp, and we now have lived there for five years and it’s been the best experience,” Nelson said.

The weekend started like any other with a new group of people and Nelson’s grandchildren were up visiting with a friend and their two kids. They were heading to the pool dressed in their bathing suits and flip flops when the fire call went out.

“There is no cell reception there so we all have radios to communicate. I remember Cookie asking if it was a kitchen fire so I told my friend to take the kids to the pool while I was listening. Then I heard crackling and saw smoke and within 20 minutes it was near my yard,” Nelson recalled.

Nelson’s husband ran from his position at the pool to look up the ridge and saw flames. He was the only staff on site as the group they were hosting didn’t need any kitchen staff or anything as they were preparing their own meals, Nelson said.

“I told my friend to take her kids and my grandson Walker with her and leave. My granddaughter Cassidy was with me because I needed help getting our animals,” she said.

Within 10 minutes the fire had approached her yard and she grabbed what little belongings she could and left with still her bathing suit, a t-shirt and sandals on.

“I have no idea if my house is still there. We tried to call this morning and the firefighters are too busy to take inventory, which I understand. I just feel awful because I was also watching the camp director’s house as they were gone for the weekend and I couldn’t get to their animals in time. I hope they made it,” Nelson said.

She went to People Helping People yesterday to get a few clothes and a trip to Lompoc to grab a few toiletries to last her for a while. They are staying with their daughter that lives in Solvang.

The Whittier Fire burns near Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County Saturday July 8, 2017. Photo by Daniel Dreifuss

The Whittier Fire is now up to 7,800 acres with five percent containment according to Santa Barbara County Fire Cpt. Dave Zaniboni.

“The fire slowed down last night and the priority is to hit hard on the south side with many aircrafts starting this morning with drops. The brush fire that broke out yesterday was thought to have been ignited by a vehicle fire, but the cause is still under investigation and that report hasn’t been confirmed,” Zaniboni added.

Mandatory Evacuations are in effect for the following areas:

Residents living on Farren Road need to leave immediately.

  • Highway 154 from Armour Ranch Road on the west to Paradise Road on the east.
  • W. Camino Cielo from the Winchester Gun Club east to Highway 154
    Kinevan Road.

Evacuation Warnings are in effect for the following areas:

  • Las Varas Canyon east to Winchester Canyon and from Highway 101 North to W. Camino Cielo.
  • Paradise Road from 154 to the first river crossing.

Fire was burning Saturday afternoon in the area of Camp Whittier in the Santa Ynez Valley. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

All campers and staff at Camp Whittier, Circle V Ranch Camp and Rancho Allegre were safely evacuated, however many structures have burned as reports of only the dining hall and one cabin at Rancho Allegre still stood. Two additional vehicles were destroyed including a police vehicle, according to eye witnesses. To see footage of the fire log onto our social media site such as Facebook to see live streaming video.

Authorities said those in the warning areas should be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice with family members, pets, important documents and irreplaceable items.

Anyone with special needs and large animals should be evacuated immediately, they added.

Evacuation shelters have been opened at San Marcos High School, 4750 Hollister Ave. in Santa Barbara, and at Santa Ynez School, 3325 Pine St. in Santa Ynez.