This Famous YouTube Family Got Flamed By Their Neighbors For Claiming To 'Evacuate' From The Holy Fire
You don't have to wait for an official agency to tell you to leave a situation you feel is potentially dangerous. Let's just get that out there. You do you.
But this isn't exactly a story about that. This is a story about Cole and Savannah LaBrant (Cole&Sav), a famous YouTube family from Orange County who superimposed their worried faces over a flaming hillside and told their millions of followers: "A giant fire makes us evacuate our house."
When the Holy Fire broke out earlier this month in the Cleveland National Forest, thousands of Southern Californians were actually forced to flee their homes. For many families, it was a nightmare scenario.
The image the couple used for their video is a composite, and its suggestion that they were among those in imminent danger from a raging inferno was not grounded in reality.
According to county fire officials — and many of the couple's Ladera Ranch neighbors — their home was never in danger. Community members have been livid for weeks now, and they are accusing the couple of misleading viewers to gain sympathy and YouTube views.
The LaBrant's Cole&Sav YouTube channel has more than 6.5 million subscribers. The family also boasts a massive Instagram following — more than 10.5 million across accounts for the husband-wife-daughter trio (their dog also has an account with more than 680,000 followers).
The family showcases a wholesome, Christian-family lifestyle, which they've monetized into a lucrative business as social media influencers. Their channel and other social media streams feature videos of dance battles, pranks and a look into their everyday lives — all while promoting brands including Audible, WayFair and Walmart.
But the social media stars aren't as popular with their real-life neighbors since the video was first published on their channel Aug. 13.
After a few days of backlash from community members and viewers, the title was changed to "We left our house because of fires in California" and the original thumbnail was removed.
But for neighbors like Emilie Blum, the damage was already done. Blum has lived in Ladera Ranch for the past six years and said she started following Savannah LaBrant on Instagram because of their shared faith and an interest in her posts. But when she came across that video, she was taken aback.
"Since I live in the same neighborhood as them, I was baffled as to what fire they could be referencing," Blum told LAist via email. "I watched half of the video and was so outraged that they would exploit the Holy Fire tragedy for their own profit."
In the video, Cole LaBrant appears on camera to tell viewers that his wife had texted him about "a huge fire right by our house." The video cuts to news footage of the fire, then switches to cell phone footage of smoke in the distance from a road, then from the LaBrant's home.
"It's gotten a lot closer. I think it's like four miles away and we just got an evacuation thing," Cole says in the video. Fire mapping data puts the burn zone's southern end at roughly 10 miles away.
"The only part of Orange County that was under mandatory was the El Cariso village area, Holy Jim Canyon and the Trabuco Canyon Recreation Residence Track," according to Capt. Tony Bommarito of the Orange County Fire Authority. Asked if any type of evacuation notice was issued or alerted for Ladera Ranch, the captain said no.
"The fire never got close."
In the video, Cole appears with a backpack, saying he packed it with "essentials... because we might not be able to come home tonight."
"Hopefully we never have to upload this, but if we do, then you guys kinda saw what happened," he says to the camera, before the video cuts to the couple outside their home with two packed bags. "Everything that we don't want to get burned down is all right here."
"We're going away from the fire so you don't have to be scared anymore," Savannah LaBrant tells her daughter as the family prepares to leave in their car.
The rest of the video is basically a vacation montage of the family's trip to San Francisco. Cole LaBrant posted a photo to Instagram on Aug. 11, showing the couple celebrating an anniversary in the city.
I took Savannah back to the spot where I asked her to be my girlfriend 2 years ago. I had no idea in just two years this girl would become my wife, I'd move across the country for her, become the dad to her incredible kid, and get her pregnant with baby number 2! Crazy how God works. Can't wait to come back here in two more years and see what all has happened.
The LaBrants did not respond to requests for an interview and have not mentioned the fire or the controversy over the video on their Instagram or Twitter accounts. Savannah LaBrant is scheduled to appear on a social media influencers panel during the "Repurposed Women's Conference" at Crossroads Christian Church in Corona later this week.
The LaBrants are represented by Creative Artists Agency (CAA) a talent agency which "creates limitless opportunities for the storytellers, trendsetters, icons, and thought leaders who shape popular culture." CAA confirmed the LaBrants are their clients but would not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Aug. 13 video closes with Cole LaBrant updating viewers that the family had returned home to Ladera Ranch after the trip to San Francisco. It's unclear what day the family first mentioned the fire in the video, when they left town and when they returned.
"We were only gone for like two days because I guess the fire moved onward," he says, then encourages subscribers to pray for the families and first responders affected by the blaze.
"We are OK, our house is OK," Cole says as a "Subscribe" button pops up on screen. He promotes the family's three Instagram accounts and signs off.
Ladera Ranch residents told LAist the video caused an uproar in a private community Facebook group for local moms, leading to roughly 400 comments. As of Thursday morning, the YouTube video had almost 24,000 comments (and 4.2 million views), with many calling the family out for the misleading nature of the original title and thumbnail.
"You guys fell for it. They didn't have to evacuate," one commenter wrote. "They lied. I live near them. For the ones who actually DID have to evacuate and or lost their home. Prayers go to them, not you."
Emilie Blum was among the community members who attempted to set the record straight in the video comments, only to be called liars and haters by Cole&Sav fans — among other name-calling.
Some fans argued the family left because Savannah is pregnant and didn't want to breathe in harmful smoke, or that their daughter's fear of fire made then choose to leave.
Blum said she and fellow neighbors reached out to the couple on Instagram, asking that they donate any money they made off the video to victims and emergency responders affected by the fire. She said the couple then blocked her from their accounts, along with some of her neighbors.
"Taking a tragedy that did not affect them and exploiting it for their own personal profit is absolutely wrong," Blum said. "They are public figures, and this went beyond harmless clickbait."
To date, the Holy Fire has burned nearly 23,000 acres and destroyed 18 homes in Orange and Riverside counties, according to emergency officials. At least two firefighters have been injured. The fire was 93 percent contained as of Thursday morning, according to CalFire.
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