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Southern California Could Be in for More Deadly Mudslides

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It’s been less than two months since mudslides tore through Southern California’s Santa Barbara County, killing 21 people and destroying at least 100 homes. Now, Montecito and Carpinteria, small coastal towns that suffered the bulk of that devastation, are under new evacuation orders as a strong rains are forecast.

As of 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office has issued a Recommended Evacuation Warning for areas in the country that were recently hit by the Thomas, Sherpa, and Whittier wildfires. The burned areas clear a path for rocks and debris that otherwise would have probably have been contained during a flash flood.


According to the warming, a winter storm arriving Thursday night and continuing through Friday could drop one-third to two-thirds of an inch of rain per hour. The National Weather Service informed officials that this heavy rainfall may be enough to trigger mud and debris flows near burn areas, according to KEYT news. Tree roots are also crucial in holding soil together along steep topography, and with that natural support removed, the land becomes much more susceptible to mudslides. This is especially the case in drought-ravaged regions where the soil is too dry to take in large amounts of water very quickly.

This interactive map identifies the areas of Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria most threatened by the rains.


Kathy Hoxsie, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, told the Los Angeles Times that the “very moist system...goes right over” the Thomas Fire burn scar. The Thomas Fire, which ignited in early December, eventually became the state’s largest wildfire on record, burning about 281,900 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.

Many were also forced to evacuate when the Thomas Fire threatened the region. The back-to-back natural disasters have forced local officials to reconsider how they warn residents about threats and how to distinguish between voluntary and mandatory evacuation zones.

“The problem is, sometimes the focus is on the word ‘voluntary,’ rather than the word ‘evacuation,’”Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown recently told The Washington Post. “The reality is, it’s still an evacuation area...Had we known what we now know, we would have evacuated the entire area.”


Additional evacuation information will be provided later on Wednesday and if any Mandatory Evacuation Order is issued, everyone must least the designated areas by Thursday, March 1 at 9 a.m.


“If at any time people feel threatened, take immediate action,” states the release. “Do not wait for a notification. Those with access and functional needs and those with large animals should leave.”


When evacuated Montecito residents started returning to their homes in early February after the devastating January mudslides, they were met with a host of new problems, including unhealthy layers of mud containing everything from sewage to petrochemicals, according to local reports.

And now, another decision about evacuation.