Santa Barbara orders evacuation amid mudslides

Thousands of hillside residents were ordered to evacuate along Santa Barbara’s coast out of fear that heavy rains Wednesday could trigger mudslides in areas scarred in 2017 by the biggest wildfire in California history.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office issued the order for 3,000 residents, including some living in Montecito, an unincorporated area on the coast that was slammed by the flow of dangerous debris in January 2018.

The National Weather Service, which issued a flash flood watch for all burn areas in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, said an inch of rain per hour was possible in burn areas and up to four inches in total along the coast.

“We do not take these evacuation orders lightly, and while we do know this is very inconvenient, if you are in an evacuation area, please know there is a high risk to life and property,” Sheriff Bill Brown told a news conference earlier this week.

A map from the county’s Office of Emergency Management indicated that much of Montecito, known as the”Red Zone,” is at risk.

“We live in the debris flow risk area so we have to evacuate our family every time, said Abraham Powell, executive director of the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, KSBY reports. “We get tired of it, but we’ve seen what happens when people don’t evacuate and a debris flow happens. We lost friends, we lost neighbors and it’s not worth the risk.”

In January, 2018, 21 people were killed and hundreds of Montecito structures were destroyed or damaged by a debris flow in an area scarred by the Thomas fire, the largest in modern California history. The blaze, which consumed 281,893, began in December 2017 and was not extinguished until June.

Despite mandatory orders, however, many people in Montecito were staying put.

“Nobody’s going into panic mode,” said Ray Dunham, who works in Montecito’s Village Service Station. “They think the threat is way over-exaggerated.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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