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Debris Flows, Fires Dominated News Coverage for Noozhawk in 2018

Stories about the Jan. 9 debris flows were by far the most read of the year, with Holiday Fire in Goleta and Ventura County's November blazes not far behind

debris flow damaged home in Montecito Click to view larger
Residents survey damage to a home on Glen Oaks Drive in Montecito on Jan. 10, 2018.  (Ray Ford / Noozhawk file photo)

Fire and water — in their most extreme manifestations — were the driving force for the most-read stories on Noozhawk.com this year.

Far and away the biggest and most traumatic event was the Jan. 9 debris flows in Montecito, which claimed 23 lives, injured dozens more, and left an almost unimaginable trail of destruction.

Eight of the top stories are directly related to the Jan. 9 storm, the disastrous aftermath, and evacuations. 

The pageviews listed are for a single story, usually the first day of reporting on a major event, but many of the top stories are part of ongoing coverage on a subject. All are pulled directly from Noozhawk’s Google Analytics.

Below are the 18 most-read stories of 2018:

1. At Least 8 Dead as Massive Flooding, Mud Flows Swamp Montecito and Carpinteria — Jan. 9

(54,331 Pageviews)

In the early morning hours of Jan. 9, unbelievable destruction swept through Montecito, as an intense storm cell dropped enough water in the mountains above Montecito to unleash a giant torrent of boulders, mud and debris on the communities downstream.

Search-and-rescue efforts began almost immediately, and details uncovered the extent of the damage to the community. 

destruction from debris flows in Montecito Click to view larger
The Olive Mill Road and Hot Springs Road area of Montecito was hard hit by the debris flows, with huge loss of life and property.  (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk file photo)

Bodies were found. Homes were completely destroyed by waves of mud and debris. Almost all the roads in Montecito were impassable, covered with water, mud, rocks and trees.

The 9-1-1 lines were overwhelmed with calls, from people calling trapped on their roofs, in their homes, in their vehicles. 

Helicopters were constantly flying overhead, and responders made dozens of hoist rescues and ground rescues in the first half-day after the debris flows. 

It became clear on that first day that much of the damage, and 19 of the 23 casualties, were in areas designed as "evacuation warning" zones, south of Highway 192, rather than evacuation order zones.

2. 20 Structures Burned, Evacuations Ordered as Wildfire Rips Through Goleta Foothills — July 6

(48,104 Pageviews)

fire burning home in Goleta Click to view larger
A home burns in the Holiday Fire near North Fairview Avenue in Goleta on July 6, 2018. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk file photo)

Strong, hot sundowner winds swept fire through the Holiday Hill Road neighborhood of Goleta on July 6, destroying 10 homes and 14 other structures in a matter of minutes.

Hundreds of firefighters responded to the scene off North Fairview Avenue, and Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network volunteers worked to evacuate animals and protect the facility buildings.

The county issued mandatory evacuations for residences near the blaze, but came under scrutiny for not issuing wider alerts to nearby neighborhoods, from which people could see the nighttime flames.

firefighter hosing home in Goleta Click to view larger
A firefighter hoses down the remains of a home burned in the Goleta Holiday Fire.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk file photo)

After a survey, the county reported that many people want to be alerted to an emergency even if their homes are not directly affected, and that messaging protocols would change. About 12 percent of county residents are signed up for Aware & Prepare emergency alerts, and registration is free and can be done easily online by clicking here.

Fire officials have not yet released a cause for the 113-acre blaze.

3. Follow-up stories on the Montecito debris flows (Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 for most-read stories in 2018)

(30,908 to 38,581 Pageviews)

Noozhawk published dozens of stories detailing the aftermath of the Montecito debris flows, including the search-and-rescue effort, the 23 victims, the Highway 101 closure and its impacts, the mass school closures, the property damage, and the beginnings of rebuilding. 

Commuters used ferries, trains, and escorted bus shuttles to get around the Highway 101 closure, which lasted almost two weeks. There are still road and bridge closures in Montecito, including on Highway 192, from debris flow damage. 

Schools that were forced to close due to the Thomas Fire's hazardous smoke had to shut down again in January because of the highway closure and evacuation orders. Some had to deal with a much greater burden: Cold Spring School lost two students in the debris flows, kindergartener Peerawat "Pasta" Sutthithepa, 6, and sixth-grader Sawyer Corey, 12.

flooded freeway Click to view larger
Highway 101 was closed for almost two weeks after being flooded with mud and debris on Jan. 9, 2018.  (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk file photo)

Districts worked together to host displaced students, whose own campuses were inaccessible, and made plans to team up during future evacuations as well. 

When Montecito started being repopulated, in late January, Coast Village Road merchants were open to greet them.

Carpinteria also worked to recover from its own flooding and isolation caused by mass utility outages and the Highway 101 closure, cutting it off from the rest of Santa Barbara County.

8. Wind-Driven Wildfire Prompts Highway 101 Closure, Evacuations in Camarillo Area — Nov. 8

(24,618 Pageviews)

Just a day after the mass shooting at Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, two destructive wildfires sparked in Ventura County: the Hill Fire, which started near Camarillo, and the Woolsey Fire, which burned from Simi Valley to Malibu.

The 4,531-acre Hill Fire closed Highway 101 through Camarillo in its early hours.

The raging, 96,949-acre Woolsey Fire caused three civilian deaths, three firefighter injuries, and destroyed about 1,500 structures. It also puts the Malibu/Pacific Coast Highway area at risk of post-fire flooding and debris flows.

The causes of both blazes are under investigation.

9. Man crushed to Death by Steel Beam and Santa Barbara Construction Yard — Dec. 3

(23,914 Pageviews)

A tragic construction yard accident killed 35-year-old Santiago Perez Jr., a family man who was the co-owner of Thomas Towing in Santa Barbara.

Multiple fundraising efforts are underway for his wife and two children, through a GoFundMe account and the Santiago Perez Jr. Memorial Account at any Community West Bank branch.

Perez was “the giver of hugs, help, support, love, tri-tip and wisdom,” a family friend wrote on the fundraising page. He coached both his children in sports, and was known in the Dos Pueblos Little League and Goleta Valley Girls Softball circles as a “fair, fun, thoughtful coach that would give his all for his kids.”

Cal/OSHA and the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Bureau are investigating the accident at Kenney Construction, police said.

10. Evacuation Orders Issued as Powerful Storm Takes Aim at Santa Barbara County — Jan. 7

(22,778 Pageviews)

Before the Jan. 9 storm, Weather and emergency managers warned of post-fire flooding and debris flows for the South Coast areas below areas recently burned by the Thomas Fire and Whittier Fire. 

A Flash Flood Watch was issued and Santa Barbara County opened the Emergency Operations Center, and mobilized responders ahead of the predicted Monday night/Tuesday storm. 

Evacuations were ordered for areas north of Highway 192 from Montecito through Carpinteria, and evacuation warnings were issued for most nearby areas. 

The storm's intense rainfall was worse than predicted, and caused the destructive debris flows. 

11. 1 Man Dead, 1 Wounded in New Year’s Day Shooting in Downtown Santa Barbara — Jan. 1

(21,937 Pageviews)

Three men face criminal charges related to the New Year’s Day shooting in Santa Barbara in which 24-year-old Jesus Reyes was killed and Tomas Arzate, who was 19 at the time, was injured.

Brian Charles Ruiz, 31, has been charged with murder, attempted murder, and discharging a firearm.

Joel Angel Campos, 26, also faces murder and attempted murder charges, and both men were also accused of committing a crime for the benefit of a street gang, according to the criminal complaint.

crime scene tape Click to view larger
Santa Barbara police stand watch Jan. 1, 2018 at the scene of a fatal shooting in the 1300 block of De la Vina Street, between Sola and Victoria streets.  (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk file photo)

His brother, Adrian Ramon Campos, 26 was charged with accessory to murder/knowledge after the fact, according to the criminal complaint.

Joel Campos’ attorney, Doug Hayes, has filed a motion to dismiss charges, and that hearing will be held on Jan. 28, according to court documents.

During a May preliminary hearing, law enforcement officers testified that Reyes and another man got into an argument that escalated to a physical fight during a New Year’s Eve party at a Santa Barbara home, and Ruiz and Arzate tried to break up the fight.

Later, police testified, Ruiz went into the living room and shot Reyes, who died of his injuries, and Arzate.  

12. Santa Barbara Teen Dies of Injuries Suffered in Accidental Shooting — Feb. 18

(18,131 Pageviews)

A 16-year-old Santa Barbara boy died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound at a shooting range in Los Padres National Forest.

Kaiden Vague, a Dos Pueblos High School student, is survived by his parents, Tiffany and Shaun Vague; brothers John and Shaun Jr.; his older sister, Vivy; and his maternal grandparents.

Kaiden was reportedly training with his father and brother at the Glass Factory at the time of the accident.

A GoFundMe memorial campaign was set up in his name.

13. No Damage Reported as 5.3 Earthquake Shakes Santa Barbara County — April 5

(17,433 Pageviews)

A 5.3-magnitude earthquake shook Santa Barbara and Ventura counties but no damage or injuries were reported locally.

The epicenter was located offshore in the Santa Barbara Channel, and the Channel Islands National  Park saw no damage either – although a bald eagle was scared off its nest, as seen via one of the park’s live cams.

Immediately after the shaking stopped in Santa Barbara, reader traffic on Noozhawk shot up, as people headed to the website looking for news about the quake.

14. Target Submits Preliminary Proposal to Take Over Kmart’s Goleta Location — June 11

(16,510 Pageviews)

In one year, the South Coast went from no Target stores to the news that two would soon be opening up shop.

If Noozhawk readership is any indication, people are more excited about the Goleta location, in the former Kmart building, than the small-format Target planned for Upper State Street.

The Goleta project includes a shopping center renovation, and the Target will likely open in 2019.

15. Hatchet-Wielding Man Allegedly Driven to Crime by Hatred of Teslas — Feb. 28

(16,438 Pageviews)

A man was walking along Arrellaga Street with a hatchet and allegedly hit a passing Tesla with the implement, Santa Barbara police said.

“He took issue with a Tesla, and said, ‘I hate Teslas,’ and created some motion with his arm while holding a hatchet,” police Sgt. Andrew Hill told Noozhawk.

Witnesses and the driver both saw and heard the man make contact with the vehicle, but a subsequent inspection revealed no damage, Hill said at the time, “so technically there was no vandalism.”

man being arrested Click to view larger
Police arrested Brandon Troy Contreras on suspicion of attempted vandalism after waving a hatchet at a passing Tesla.  (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo)

The man, 30-year-old Brandon Troy Contreras, was booked on suspicion of being under the influence, and police confiscated the hatchet, Hill said.

Contreras was charged with attempted vandalism and public intoxication, and released from custody, according to Superior Court records. He had pleaded not guilty to both charges.

He is currently in County Jail custody due to charges in other criminal cases, including a first-degree residential burglary allegation, according to court and Sheriff’s Department records.

16. Tonic Nightclub Closes in Downtown Santa Barbara — Feb. 2

(16,257 Pageviews)

The Tonic Nightclub closed after 12 years in business, and the large State Street property is still vacant.

The approximately 6,500-square-foot venue and patio area at 634 State St. shut its doors at the end of January 2018, according to an employee, who also said the business lost a lot of business during the Thomas Fire and the Jan. 9 debris flows. 

17. Santa Barbara Teen’s Body Found Floating in Ocean Near Stearns Wharf — May 15

(16,127 Pageviews)

Santa Barbara High School student Andrew Hernandez, 17, was found dead in the water near Stearns Wharf, with early indications that he drowned, according to authorities.

“All indications are that his death was the result of an apparent suicide,” said Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover.

Then-SBHS principal John Becchio said in a message to the school community that the campus set up a compassion center with counseling services.

“I ask that in times like this we bond together as a Dons Family and make sure we take care of each other,” he wrote.

Click here for suicide prevention information and resources that are available 24/7.  

The National Suicide Prevention Line is available 24/7 at 1.800.273.8255 and the Santa Barbara County 24-hour, toll-free hotline is 1.800.400.1572.

18. Santa Barbara County Changes Evacuation Procedures for Future Storms, Releases Debris Flow Risk Map — Feb. 8

(14,323 Pageviews)

The county’s current pre-storm evacuation plans for recent burn areas are modeled off the Ready! Set! Go! wildfire system, with authorities issuing weather advisories, evacuation warnings, and then evacuation orders as needed.

In February, emergency managers decided to change the evacuation procedures used ahead of the Jan. 9 debris flows, which included mandatory evacuation and voluntary evacuation areas in effect at the same time, for different areas.

“We found after the Jan. 9 event for some people the focus was on the word voluntary, not the word evacuate,” Sheriff Bill Brown said at a February meeting, announcing leaders would do away with “voluntary” and “mandatory” in future evacuation messaging.

Leaders also said at the time that they plan to preemptively shut down Highway 101, and exits, in evacuation areas a few hours before a storm’s arrival.

Weather and emergency management officials have determined the threshold for a storm that could cause flooding and debris flows is one that is predicted to drop 0.8 inch of rainfall per hour in the Thomas Fire burn area, and 1 inch per hour of rainfall in the Whittier Fire burn area.

New debris flow risk area maps were released in early December, showing zones in red that are at-risk of damage and will be impacted by evacuation orders.

Santa Barbara County is also changing its emergency-alerting protocols in an effort to notify more people, more quickly of developing incidents.

Only 12 percent of people countywide, or 52,850 residents, are signed up to receive emergency alerts through Aware & Prepare, which sends messages via text message, email, and phone calls.

Click here for more information about the types of emergency alerts the county uses, and click here to register for Aware & Prepare alerts.

The Ready! Set! Go! model is described as follows:

» 72 to 48 hours before the storm: The county Office of Emergency Management alerts the community of an upcoming storm of duration and intensity that poses a possible risk to property or life. Community members are recommended to closely monitor the situation, and should begin planning for potential evacuations.

» 48 to 24 hours before the storm: The Sheriff's Office will issue a warning to affected areas of the possibilities of an evacuation because of an incoming storm with possible risk to property or life. Community members are urged to arrange transportation, confirm evacuation plans, gather items and be ready to leave. Take action as needed for people with large animals or mobility needs.

» 24 hours or less before the storm: The Sheriff's Office orders people to leave if residents are in a designated evacuation area. The storm is capable of producing debris flows similar to the Jan. 9 disaster. Authorities will allow residents to return home when it's safe.

There is not always warning a potentially dangerous storm is developing, and in the case of a sudden threat, officials will send out Wireless Emergency Alerts and other messaging, but there won’t be time for door-to-door notifications, officials have said.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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