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1971 Romero Fire & Flood

Romero Fire from Carpinteria, 1971.

An act of arson, the Romero Fire was started on October 6, 1971, when a man threw an improvised fire bomb onto the steep dry slopes off Bella Vista Drive. The fire was reported about 30 minutes later when the smoke became visible in the hills behind Montecito and Summerland. The Forest Service responded, with the aid of Montecito and Carpinteria firefighters; however it was immediately apparent that the fire had already grown out of control. Aircraft and hand crews were dispatched to hold the fire at the East Camino Cielo fuel gap. However, as the sun set, Santa Ana winds push the fire down the mountainside and across Bella Vista Drive and Ladera Lane, destroying four houses. By the next morning the fire had burned all the way through Toro Canyon, threatening Carpinteria. With weather forecasts looking good, bulldozers are sent to cut a fire break through Santa Monica Canyon. Unfortunately, the weather predictions were incorrect, and another unexpected windstorm caused the fire to explode eastward toward the bulldozer crews. Many of the operators managed to escape the blaze, but four were killed when the fire trapped them on the ridgeline.

         The next day, the fire continued eastward, and by Sunday it had reached Carpinteria High School. Luckily, a sea breeze managed to push the flames back up the hill before the fire could spread into downtown Carpinteria. For three days the fire continued eastward towards Ventura as an aggressive aerial assault continued. Eventually, firefighters managed to gain the upperhand and stop the fire at Rincon Creek, after it had burned 15,600 acres. 

As the rainy season approached, the possibility of flooding loomed over the burn zone. In December, five days of steady rain caused moderate to severe flooding along Romero and Toro Canyon creeks. In Summerland, flooding shut down Highway 101 and the railroad for several hours.

Romero Fire from Carpinteria, 1971.
Flooding across Highway 101 near Padaro Lane, December 1971.
The 2019 rebuild of Romero Fire memorial site, honoring the four firefighters who died in the blaze. The site’s original wood crosses were destroyed by the Thomas Fire in 2017.
Romero Fire Flood Emergency Map 1971