No evacuations expected as light storm system passes over Santa - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

No evacuations expected as light storm system passes over Santa Barbara County

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Santa Barbara County officials say a light storm system expected to pass over the area this week does not warrant evacuations in recent burn areas.

Just last week, officials announced new evacuation protocols in the event of significant rainfall, and mudslides are on the minds of many who live in recent burn areas. 

Last summer, the Alamo Fire left a large 30,000-acre burn scar just east of Santa Maria in Tepusquet Canyon.

While Montecito's deadly mudslide in January made headlines, the Tepusquet Canyon area had its own mud and debris flows. 

Property owners in the canyon are aware the threat always looms but say they are ready and self-sufficient. 

"Most of the mudflows that we had were significant enough to destroy the low-lying land but pretty much everybody in the canyon was ready for them," said Bobby Acquistapace, Tepusquet Canyon resident. "We'd seen the weather reports, we know we had just dealt with the Alamo Fire, we all expected there to be mudflows and so everybody had gone into town the day before, got an extra gallon of milk and had just prepared to stay the night or stay the week and not be able to make it to work on Monday." 

"Trees had hit those pipes and washed everything out. We had an oak tree show up, uprooted that wasn't ours," said one Tepusquet resident, describing the mudslide.

All of the fires that burned in the last two years have created the potential for mudflows. That includes the Sherpa, Alamo, Rey, Whittier, and Thomas fires.
"All of those fires have the potential for debris flows," said Kevin Cooper, Burned Area Emergency Response Team Investigator. "The steepest country that burned hottest has the worst potential for them."

"We're concerned but we have a plan," Acquistapace said. "We all know that there is going to be mudslides or other natural disasters and we all expect to be able to help ourselves, and if that's not possible, we will call our neighbors first."

"Alamo Fire in (Tepusquet Canyon) had lighter fuels burn. In general, we don't see as much of a risk there," said Cooper. "But there are risks for Twitchell Reservoir, roads, and anyone who lives along the canyons and river bottoms need to be very careful."

Officials stress that mud and debris flows can happen in any burn scar.

"Unfortunately, it's going to take a lot of patience because if it didn't happen last time, that doesn't mean it won't happen this time," Cooper said.

In the meantime, it's important that these burn areas receive light rains in order for vegetation to grow back and secure the hillsides. Los Padres National Forest investigators say that's really the only long-term solution to burn area recovery and they are tracking new vegetation growth within the scars. 

"It's good news because we need some rain to get some vegetation growing on those hill slopes," Cooper said.

County officials stress that everyone needs to have an evacuation plan when and if those heavy rains do come.

They are urging all residents to register to receive emergency alerts through the countywide Aware and Prepare system. 

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