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From fire to flood: Preparing for rain in Santa Barbara County burn areas

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Winter has been off to a dry start but rain on the way brings concern over how major burn areas in Santa Barbara County will be impacted.

In 2017 alone, there were three major wildfires; the Alamo Fire, Whittier Fire, and most recently, the Thomas Fire. The fight against the largest wildfire in recorded state history isn't over yet.

"The biggest concerns are definitely the burn areas," said Santa Barbara County Fire Captain Dave Zaniboni.

While the county isn't expected to get too much rain, Zaniboni says firefighters are ready to go from fire to flood.

"So our concerns for the fire department is mudslides and just having people prepared for those burn areas," Zaniboni said.

He says when the heavier rain comes through, the two areas of concern will include Highway 154 where the Whittier Fire burned and the burn area from the Thomas Fire along Highway 101 from Carpinteria heading into Ventura.

What he doesn't want to see happen is the major flash flood that swept through El Capitan Ranch last January during a heavy storm.

"That dumped two or three inches of rain right over that area and we had cabins coming off their foundations over there and cars being swept all the way out to the ocean," Zaniboni said.

Others like Jack Sturn, a resident of Montecito, are preparing their homes for any winter storms ahead.

"We just want to make sure our drains are clean and that some places that have some water accumulation will be fine as well," Sturn said.

Henry Postna says he'll be mindful of his outdoor activities on rainy days.

"Not gonna go hiking this weekend or next week when we're supposed to get the rainstorm, just kind of stay out of the area," Postna said.

Meanwhile, during a press conference on Tuesday, Mark Ghilarducci, an official with California's Office of Emergency Services, said the mudslide-prone areas throughout the Thomas Fire burn areas are being assessed.

"We know in this particular event there's been a lot of watersheds that have been damaged, so one of the things we're doing now is going out and looking at those areas in the areas of highest priority that could have mudflows or areas where you could get a flash flood," Ghilarducci said.

While little rain is expected in over the burn areas of the Thomas Fire over the next rain event, Zaniboni says now is the time to prepare, especially those living in burn areas. He says to have sandbags and an evacuation plan ready in the event heavy rain comes through.

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