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Evacuated Residents Returning to Casa Dorinda Senior Community in Montecito

Residents of the upscale Casa Dorinda retirement community in Montecito have begun returning to their homes, nearly a month after mud and debris flows forced them to evacuate. 

Assisted-living (personal care) residents returned to the campus at 300 Hot Springs Road on Monday, according to Chief Executive Officer Brian McCague. 

On Tuesday, residents returned to the medical center (skilled-nursing facility), McCague said, and independent-living residents were expected back Wednesday afternoon.

As of Wednesday, Casa Dorinda still had spotty telephone and cable services, but reactivation was expected soon. 

“Those are both relatively crucial for us operating Casa, but we have worked around it,” McCague said. “We should have cable today, and by the end of today, we should have most of the phone systems operating on the campus.”

“Our residents are doing well,” McCague said. “They are happy about returning, and things are settling back down.”

Casa Dorinda has 325 people on the premises, and of that number, about 275 residents live on campus daily, he said.

When the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office lifted the mandatory evacuation zone for Casa, residents were unable to reoccupy due to blockages and debris clean-up efforts.

“The campus itself wasn’t ready to have residents return, even though most utilities were established in a lot of Montecito,” McCague said.

Overall, the campus is about 80 percent clean of mud and debris, McCague said. 

Debris and mud inundated just outside Casa’s front gates in the areas of Olive Mill Road at Hot Springs Road.

Crews worked to clear debris from Casa’s property and nearby roadways. The property’s entrance bridge was damaged, and the exit bridge remains unusable, he said.

“Outside our front gates was pretty bad,” McCague said. “There has been quite a bit of major clean up, and dry mud in the roadways and utility trucks, but it’s passable now. Every day gets cleaned up a little more — it’s going in the right direction.” 

McCague said two residential buildings had minor damage to the first floor, affecting about seven apartments. 

“There was a little bit of water and mud in the apartments,” he said. “It’s not significant, and the residents were all fine.” 

Casa Dorinda was in the midst of a planned renovation and construction project when the Jan. 9 storm hit.

About 21 acres of the 48-acre campus are undeveloped, which includes a natural habitat with walking trails. Some 200 new oak trees were recently planted in the woodland area.

McCague said the debris flow covered about 8 to 10 acres of that 21-acre space.

“We were in the midst of doing a restoration of that area,” McCague said. “We think we lost about 85 of the new trees, and some of the other work out there.”

He said the damage is “minor setbacks” to the renovation, adding that “the important thing is everybody is safe, nobody was injured, and we didn’t lose any life on Casa’s property — we can plant new trees.”

Casa's property was in the voluntary evacuation zone when heavy rains drenched the Thomas Fire-scarred hillsides above the community.

“We were initially sheltering in place,” he said. “On Thursday (Jan. 11), we mandatorily evacuated the campus.”

McCague said a temporary office was set up off Calle Real in Goleta when Casa staff was displaced, and some residents were temporarily living in other facilities throughout the Santa Barbara area, where Casa employees were assisting residents.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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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