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Crews work to clear debris basins after Cave Fire

Posted at 6:25 PM, Nov 27, 2019

While rain helped firefighters get an upper hand on the Cave Fire, it also presented the danger of potential debris flows.

Santa Barbara County Flood Control crews are now working to prevent something like that from happening.

County crews as well as outside contractors were out until about 1 a.m. Wednesday, trying to clean out the San Antonio Watershed in case the rain caused a debris flow.

While the rain didn't end up causing any damage this time, on Wednesday afternoon crews installed what they call a debris rack to prevent something from happening in the future.

"In a burned watershed, whenever there are significant rainfall events, it does tend to lead to greater runoff, greater erosion potential and it can bring down a lot of material from the mountains," explained Jon Frye, Engineering Manager for the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District.

Crews say 60-70 percent of the San Antonio Watershed burned in the Cave Fire. Santa Barbara County Flood Control Maintenance Manager Rick Tomasini says his team was on site as soon as possible to work on the debris basin.

"Working with fire, we were in here by noon Tuesday and had it cleaned by Tuesday night/Wednesday morning so that's about as proactive as you can get, getting access to do the work," Tomasini said.

On Wednesday afternoon, crews were back at it again, installing what they call a debris rack in the San Antonio Creek.

"We install these debris racks to try and trap the big material that might otherwise go downstream and trap a bridge and if it traps a bridge, then you have bigger problems," Frye said.

While the watersheds fared well during the early morning storm Wednesday, some questioned why crews waited to make these repairs. The flood control district says their basins are maintained year-round and criteria for maintenance change after a fire.

"The fire came along and that opens up a different set of parameters, if you will, and it allows us to come back in and do further clean out operations and it's taken into consideration the different circumstances and the different conditions of a burnt watershed," Frye said.

As the rain continues to fall on and off, the county says people should have a plan and maintain their go-bags in case of evacuation for what they call "the new normal."

The county is holding a meeting next Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Montecito Union School to debut the new debris flow risk map for the Montecito/Carpinteria area, showing what to expect this next winter season for those who have already lived through a debris flow.