With a storm expected to hit the area next week, officials in Santa Barbara County are warning about the potential dangers in the Thomas Fire burn areas, including the chance for debris and mud flows, as well as flooding.
According to Tom Fayram with Santa Barbara County Flood Control District, the flood risk from this fire is estimated to be ten times more than a normal year. On Friday, county officials held a press conference at Carpinteria City Hall to address such concerns and how it’s being handled.
"I want to report that the Flood Control District has been working very fast, as the supervisor mentioned, to clear out eleven debris basins that are below the burn area," Fayram said.
He says that work was completed Friday. However, the concern over potential flooding will extend past the coming week’s storm.
"It will be for this season and next season at least," Fayram said.
Santa Barbara County’s Office of Emergency Services Director Rob Lewin says the Thomas Fire caused damage to 17 canyons.
"There has not been a fire that has taken out that much of our watershed," Lewin said.
These concerns have prompted county officials to create an online, interactive map showing areas of concern.
"If you live within the burn area, the threat to you is to have rocks and debris coming into your property as well as the impacts from watercourses," Lewin said.
He says those living in burn areas, near watercourses and in lower Montecito and Carpinteria are also in areas at risk for debris flows and mudslides.
Kevin Cooper with the U.S. Forest Service says debris flows are the most dangerous things officials have been preparing for and discussing.
"It picks up that silt, sand, gravel, and rocks," Cooper said. "It’s very powerful and moves very quickly."
Len Nielsen, a CAL FIRE forester, says these weather patterns can be unpredictable and leave little time to prepare.
"About six miles away is the burn area," Nielsen said. "Well, instead of taking a day to come down the hill, it’s going to take 15-20 minutes."
Officials urge residents to have a plan to evacuate, shelter-in-place or get to higher ground in the event of a flood. Locals can subscribe to "Aware and Prepare" alerts to stay updated on county emergencies at sbcounty.org. If you know someone without internet, updates can be accessed by calling "211."
If you need sandbags to protect your home in the event of rain or flooding, you can visit these locations:
Santa Barbara Flood Control Shop
4568 County Rd (Off of Calle Real)
Santa Maria Flood Control Shop
912 West Foster Road
Santa Barbara Fire Station #31
168 W Hwy 246