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The Rex Barton Story Chapter 18

The Rex Barton Story Chapter 18

The Rex Barton Story Chapter 18

The Flood of 1971

Winter came early in 1971 after a disastrous fall fire in 1970 that burned one-third of the mountains and foothills of Montecito. Homes were lost, possessions, and fortunately only a couple of lives. Fire Fighters fought valiantly for weeks to save all they could of this affluent community. Rich in trees, waterways, homes and the beauty of botanic gardens and the very nature of the land. Miles and miles of trails, animals, ranches with horses and cattle dotted the mountainsides.

Firecrackers set the blaze, and a lack of enough rain for several years contributed to the windswept out of control blaze. Because of the inaccessible areas, many homes burned to the ground. The Sheriff's Department was completely understaffed, causing long twelve to fifteen hours at a time on the front lines.

We assisted the Fire Department, Forest Services, and many other agencies in getting to as many people and animals to safety as possible. When we could do no more many of us joined the front lines of the fire and or assisted people in packing up their things and animals and leading them out of the smoke and flames.

It was a horror show of red, yellow, white flames exploding trees, fuel tanks on cars and gas lines everywhere. Propane tanks exploded and electrical canisters atop telephone poles. It reminded me of when reading and studying Revelations, the last book in the Bible, where all Hell breaks loose and God, rains down fire upon a third of the earth. If all that was not enough, the more resilient people had just begun to go back and start the rebuilding of their lives, when the winter rains began to fall. Each day we listened to the news flashes of flooding in one area and then another and another.

Mudslides were a significant concern that began occurring and washing down entire areas of mountainsides. Trees, rocks and anything in its path was gone and buried for the rest of time. Including animals that humans, in spite of all their wisdom, could not defend or help. It had been too much the last few months.

People, rich and poor alike lost everything by fire, going through the heartache of sifting through debris fields, then having your very life scrutinized by banks and insurance companies unwilling to help in such a time as this. Now the floods came like in the story of Noah and the Ark. Would it not stop?

Our briefings were short and to the point. Human resources were what was needed, even if it was only a few. Detectives were called out help as were the brass and some of the honor farm inductees. All that could and would help were the shoulder to shoulder, helping people and animals make it out alive.

Every small rowboat, motorboat and dingy was up for grabs to help save lives when and where possible. Big Red, Billy and I were teamed up once again to extract people and animals trapped by the rushing and over the bank's stream flooding.

Where once there was a beautiful little stream that meandered through trees and down the hill creating small waterfalls was now a torrent of deadly rushing rivers. One misplaced step and you have washed away and probably not found again. If you were, you would be amongst the mud; debris God knows what else at the mouth of a raging ocean.

Dispatch had received a call from a family of four trapped on the roof of their car. The driver had miss-calculated the depth and speed of the water washing over a small bridge. The moment his front wheels hit the ridge, it gave way to the already beaten up supports. Logs, rocks and huge trees were racing down the rivers now at unbelievable speeds.

All three of us arrived at the same time on the opposite side of the washed-out bridge. I asked Billy and Red, who wants to draw straws to make the crossing? We all laughed while Red and I looked directly at Billy.

"Sorry kid, Red and I are the biggest, and you will need our strength to make the crossing if you are up to it?"

"Yeah, I get it. And yes I am up to it."

Our first job was donning life jackets, and locking up our weapons and all gear in the trunks of our patrol cars. Can't shoot rocks and trees out of our way I thought for a second as I closed the trunk lid of the patrol car. Ok, guys, safety first.

Billy, if the speed of the rapids is too tremendous and pulling you under, you got to let us know. We can't save you or that family over there if you are pulled from us by the rapid currents. We can figure out something else. I mentioned that maybe we could get a Crane out here. Not enough time, Red said. "Let's do this, guys."

Red was already. He had his sleeves rolled up and his gloves on for duty.

Ok, the first part is getting the rope to the people on top of the car, then tying it off on one of the car doors. That part was entirely in the hands of the father waiting for the rope throw.

"Can you secure the rope, Mr.?"

"Yes," he said, yelling back across the water from us.

We could barely hear over the roar of the raging waters. His wife and children were petrified and crying as you would think. This was not going to be an easy rescue. In the mean-time, we saw a couple of dogs floating down the river. We were unable to catch them. I prayed they got out, downstream.

Red did the honors by throwing the rope over to the trapped family. They missed. Red wound the line up in his hands and tossed it again. And again, the man missed+. It took four times before the man caught the rope, nearly falling off of the top of his car in the process. He would have drowned if that happened.

He tied the rope off as instructed and Red, and I tested it for strength. It seemed to hold alright, and Billy got ready for his trip across the torrent of water. Once Billy was secured with an additional safety rope, he started on his quest across the raging waters.

Hand over hand, Billy went until the vehicle and waiting family was reached. He asked the parents to hand down the youngest child first slowly. They did, but the kids understandably didn't like leaving their parents. Billy came back on a slide hook.

I reached out for him as Red kept the rope very taught. Billy, did this magic trick three more times until all were members of the family were safely on our side of the water. Our bodies were exhausted from our rescue efforts.

We radioed dispatch that our rescue mission was complete. Then we heard more bad news. A horse ranch, a couple of miles from our location was severely underwater, and the threat to human and animal life was in danger. We put everything back in our patrol cars and sped on down the flooded roads with red lights and siren blaring. In the process, we passed many other emergency vehicles going in the opposite direction all with a purpose. We let the family we rescued off at the Montecito Fire Station.

When we finally reached, the ranch turn-off near the 101 Freeway, the gate was down, and the front paddocks were flooded by about a foot of water on either side of the entry road. The Montecito river had breached its banks. I told Red and Billy the water looks like it is rising. We better get the animals out of here fast.

The owner of the ranch, a small petite woman, with greying blond hair and a beautiful figure who went by the name of Polly, told me she had six people standing by and four double horse trailers and one quad. I asked her where are the horses now? All but three are in the barn, which has a foot or more of standing water on the inside. The other three are in the pasture area over by the river.

Her home across from the barn was in the way so I couldn't see the pastured horses. I told everyone not to wait any longer.

"People, the river has breached its banks and is moving fast right toward us by the minute. Get the horses trailered fast". Polly gave directions to her available hands, and together we trailered all six horses from the barn.

"Polly, I think I met you once over at the fairgrounds years ago by the stalls. You were showing quarter horses, and I was one of the contestants with my horse, Sheila".

Not that I expected her to remember anything. Especially in this emergency. As I said, she was a good looking, cowgirl in tight jeans.

But she answered me and said, "Yes, I do remember you."

"I am surprised that you remember me, that was more than eight-years, ago wasn't it?"

"Yes, it was."

"Ok. Let's get these horses out of here folks. Billy, you take the lead. Red you and Polly come with me."

Polly, yelled for her ranch hand Shelby to follow behind the convoy and get the horses to the fairgrounds.

"Once you get them there, Shelby, dry them and bed them down. Feed them about two thirds and save a third for later".

"Yes, ma'am Shelby answered."

Now Polly, what do you have in mind for the last three mares? Oh, they are not mares? No, they are my studs. Oh, shit. Polly, we are going to need more people here. You should have told me. We need to get over there now. I watched the convoy of cars and trucks go through the last gate on their way to the fairgrounds. Polly handed me two ropes, and she had two more she carried herself just in case. I gave one rope to Red and told him what I thought might work.

"If you can get, those horses turned around and running toward the gate. I will be opposite you. We can worry about hooking them up then once they are away from the river's edge.

"Let's do it, cowboy!" Red chided.

We half ran and half walked behind the house and out to the pastured animals. Two big Golden Retrievers were following us acting like this was some big adventure. Polly told the dogs to go and get the horses and bring them to us. I opened the last fence gate to the pasture and let the dogs through to get the horses when a big tree near where the animals were standing went down and was swept away by the river.

The river was in a critical state just inches from cresting the banks. Water was beginning to flow over the top of the river bank and threatened to wash all of the animals away in its path. I yelled at Polly to stay here by the gate and don't move. I took off, running toward the horses as the dogs were barking and trying to turn the horses toward me.

The animals were scared and didn't know which way to run. Red went to the opposite side, forming a V. The dogs were doing their best but not making any progress. I got to within forty feet of a terrified horse and readied my rope to put a lasso around his neck. My first try was a bust. The horse turned and bolted toward the river's edge and stopped short because one of the dogs got in his way.

That pup fell backward into the river, and the horse turned and ran toward me. The other two horses followed the first with the only dog left barking at their heels. I went over to the river's edge very carefully to see if I could see any signs of the Golden.

No, it was gone. I turned and started to run and realized that I was nearly in a losing battle myself. It was too late. The ground beneath my feet was breaking away and sinking into oblivion. Polly yelled and pointed toward the backside of the river, and we saw and heard a massive mudslide going into the river and redirecting the water right where we were. The roar of the slide was as if a giant locomotive was coming straight at us.

Red threw me a rope, and I grabbed it and held on as he pulled me out of the mud hole. I got up, and we both ran as hard as we could toward the horses where Polly was hooking them up. She meanwhile had two horses roped, and halters hooked up. The third horse was waiting with the dog barking at its heels and holding it at bay. I reached the fence and slid my rope over the horse's head and then attached the hook to its halter and the three of us caught up to Polly and the other two horses.

"That was to close Polly. So, sorry about your lost Golden Retriever. Let's get these guys loaded and get out of here."

"Thank you, Hawk," Polly said.

"You are very welcome. Buy you a cup of coffee when we get to the fairgrounds."

"You got it, Hawk."

By the way, Red and I need to tie off to the back of one of your trailers. The water is too deep on the road, and we need to get these patrol cars back in tonight.

"Just get me to the driveway, ok."

We made it to the Santa Barbara Fair Grounds who had opened its facility for the emergency. All the horses were safely bedded down and fed. It was time for that cup of coffee and catching up on all the years and news. It would have been an excellent time to rest, but we were called back out into the field — many more emergencies, to attend.

There was an endless call for help all night long. Even after the rains had stopped. People were trapped in trees, on top of cars, in their vehicles and flooded-out homes. First came the fire then flood the — Santa Barbara's revolving history.

The same thing happens every seven years it seems like. We were fortunate this year. The damage was significant, but the loss of life was low. All deputies went above and beyond the call of duty and came back to fight crime another day.

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