Close Call for Cold Spring Tavern
Incident: Whittier Fire Wildfire
Close Call For Cold Spring Tavern
Santa Barbara is undoubtedly a tourist destination, known for its beaches, lively festivals, night life, and Spanish-style architecture. With all that Santa Barbara has to offer, nothing complements its beauty more than the Santa Ynez Mountains steeply towering over the town, providing impressionable views of the city in all its glory. In just 15 minutes, visitors and locals alike take a quick drive on Highway 154 to catch some stunning views of the city while heading back in time to the Wild, Wild West. A turn on Stage Coach Road and a quick drive down the canyon, onlookers can take in the wonder that is Cold Springs Canyon Arch Bridge, a historic civil engineering landmark. The journey culminates at the destination where guests are able to revel in the Cold Springs Tavern experience.
As they arrive, guests begin to hear the bluesy sounds or country twang of live instruments from a popular local band scheduled to perform that day. Arriving at the destination, visitors see a small set of historic yet well preserved buildings which make up Cold Springs Tavern. Guests can enjoy and learn the history of several structures including, Road Gang House, Ojai Jail, Log Cabin Bar, and the ghost town (Gopherville, CA) buildings. Cold Springs Tavern was built in 1860 as a rest stop for travelers heading through Santa Ynez Mountains over San Marcos Pass on stage coaches. Nestled in the woods and surrounded by lush trees and plant life, the tavern has a romantic allure. It’s like turning back time and arriving in the old west. Cold Springs Tavern is like an authentic getaway experience.
Tana Pagaling is the manager of Cold Springs Tavern and has worked there for many years. She adds, “People can come by, have a cold beer, some BBQ Tri Tip, and listen to music. The bikers are outside, and it’s a really good opportunity for people watching.”
On Saturday, July 8, 2017, the Whittier fire started roughly 7 miles away from Cold Springs Tavern near Lake Cachuma. With temperatures of 105 degrees, west winds of 10-15 mph, and heavy fuels, the fire grew at a rapid rate on both sides of Highway 154. The entire area, including Cold Springs Tavern was under mandatory evacuation. Task force leader, USFS Captain, Robert Thibault provides firsthand accounts of the prevention measures that took place in the event the fire would begin to threaten the area. “As the Whittier fire was making significant runs to the south and east, operations implemented contingent and defensive plans to protect communities at risk in East and West Camino Cielo, Hwy 154 and Paradise Road. As part of that plan to protect the historic stage coach stop, Cold Spring Tavern, they deployed a sprinkler system.” Installing the sprinkler system was a collaborative effort by multiple agencies to protect the area. The sprinkler system had the ability to activate at a moment’s notice and would douse the area with water to provide relief if the fire reached the Tavern and firefighters had to leave the area. This would allow structures a chance to survive.
When Cold Springs Tavern employees learned about the fire, Tana states, “It was really scary. I was not working the day the fire came down. On Saturday they evacuated everybody. Donna called me that we were evacuated and closed. Day by day, we were not sure if we would reopen.” General Manager of Cold Springs Tavern, Donna Mudge described her accounts during the Whittier fire. “I felt nervous, concerned about the safety of staff, customers there, and the well-being of the tavern. It’s a really great community hub. We had friends that lived by Paradise Road and would drive down Stage Coach Road to check on the tavern and get eyes on it rather than just listen to updates…There are a lot of people that care about this place. We get customers that say they were here 40 years ago. Even people that moved away were concerned. A couple of days ago, I went to check on things and the phone was ringing off the hook!” Donna added, “Thank you to everybody, firefighters, and people willing to help, like liaisons. People battling the fire stayed in touch and I felt like I knew what was going on.”
The fire was contained at Bear Creek Canyon. Firefighters were able to stop the fire from spreading just 1 mile away from the Tavern. Currently, Cold Springs Tavern is no longer under threat and the fire is fully contained in that area. The Tavern has endured threat from previous fires before and has now survived the Whittier Fire. Cold Springs Tavern will continue to flourish and the restaurant and bar are now open once again.