Three Santa Barbara County backcountry campers were home safe Tuesday night after a weeklong excursion interrupted by heavier than expected rain storms.

On Monday morning, a man called the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department to report that his friend and two other campers were in the backcountry when the deluge began. He said the trio were on a seven-day hiking/camping trip and weren’t due back until Tuesday at the earliest, but he wanted the Sheriff’s Department to be aware that they were still in the backcountry.

He said his 26-year-old male friend was an experienced backpacker, but that the friend’s 25-year-old girlfriend and the friend’s 57-year-old mother were inexperienced.

On Tuesday, sheriff’s personnel assessed the situation. They took into account the experience level of two of the backpackers, the equipment the group had with them, the amount of water that had already fallen, and the weather forecasts predicting even more rain to come. They decided to take advantage of the brief window of opportunity between storms and initiate a Search and Rescue operation before the rivers and streams rose any higher.

Beginning at noon, 13 members of the all-volunteer Santa Barbara Search and Rescue Team, sheriff’s Copter-2 and two sheriff’s deputies began a search of the backcountry. The trio had been dropped off near Nira Campground and had planned to hike to McKinley Mountain before hiking out at East Camino Cielo.

During Tuesday’s operation, searchers alerted the host at Upper Osos Campground that the three backpackers may show up. About 3:30 p.m., the host contacted Search and Rescue personnel to inform them that the trio had indeed arrived.

Because of the height of the Santa Ynez River and proximity of sheriff’s Copter-2, it was decided that the three backpackers would meet the helicopter at Lower Osos Campground, which then transported them across the fast-moving river. A Search and Rescue member examined the trio and determined the couple from Santa Cruz and the mother from Santa Barbara were not injured.

The friend who called the Sheriff’s Department met the three backpackers at White Rock and drove them down the mountain late Tuesday afternoon.

— Drew Sugars is a public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.