Wednesday January 10, 2018

Canadian who survived California wildfires forced from home by deadly mudslides

Ben Hyatt, pictured here with his wife, son and dog, had to flee his Montecito, Calif., home after a mudslide hit the town.

Ben Hyatt, pictured here with his wife, son and dog, had to flee his Montecito, Calif., home after a mudslide hit the town. (Submitted by Ben Hyatt)

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Story transcript

Less than a month after raging wildfires forced Ben Hyatt from his California home, he and his family had to flee to safety again.

The Canadian-born man and his family were rescued by firefighters on Tuesday after their Montecito, Calif., home was partially submerged in a mudslide.

"Everyone's OK," Hyatt told As It Happens host Carol Off. "I think we're just a little shell-shocked."

Hyatt was born in London, Ont., and grew up in Fort McMurray, Alta., before moving to California.

Last month, his community was evacuated amid the state's raging wildfires, which stripped the hills of their trees, leaving them ripe for mudslides.

'I heard a whoosh and the house started to shake and instantly there was three feet of mud all around our house.' - Ben Hyatt, California resident 

He said he was asleep on his couch  when flickering lights awoke him at 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

He looked up and saw bright orange lights in the skylight above him. He later learned it was caused by natural gas explosions. 

"And then it really, really started raining — just crazy, crazy rain," he said.

The torrential downpour only lasted a few minutes, he said.

"Within three minutes of that, all of a sudden I heard a whoosh and the house started to shake and instantly there was three feet of mud all around our house."

Hyatt home

Hyatt took this picture of his Montecito home on Tuesday. (Submitted by Ben Hyatt )

Hyatt immediately woke up his eight-year-old son and put him on the top bunk of his bunk bed. The house has no second floor and his seven-year-old daughter was away at a sleepover.

"It was black outside. All we saw was rising mud all around," he said. "We have all glass doors along the back of our house and just saw the mud rising and the doors buckling."

He and his wife started piling furniture against the glass doors. They feared the mud would keep climbing and they'd have no way of escaping to the roof.

"Things all of a sudden got really calm," he said. "It continued to rain, but it got calm and the mud stopped rising."

When the sun came up at around 6:30 a.m., firefighters started making their way through Hyatt's neighbourhood. They helped Hyatt and his family out of their mud-caked home.

The yard, he said, was almost unrecognizable. Hedges and cars were washed away, and an errant washing machine somehow ended up in the front of his house.

firefighters

Firefighters rescued the Hyatt family when the sun came up. (Submitted by Ben Hyatt )

"My son is OK. He was very brave. The fireman carried him out on his back, which was awesome and I carried our 80-lb lap dog out," he said.

The family have since moved to safer ground in Pismo Beach, Calif., but Hyatt said several people in his town remain unaccounted for.

"We know a lot of people in this town," he said. "It's very sad."