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Evacuations Ordered as Latest Storm Heads to Santa Barbara County

Residents in 'extreme high risk' areas told to go; those in 'high risk' areas given recommendation to leave

Emergency officials in Santa Barbara County held a press conference Monday — ahead of a Tuesday storm — to announce mandatory evacuation orders for communities below the Thomas, Whittier, Alamo and Sherpa fire burn areas. Above, from left, are Sheriff Bill Brown, Rob Lewin, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, and Kevin Taylor, assistant chief of the Montecito Fire Protection District. Click to view larger
Emergency officials in Santa Barbara County held a press conference Monday — ahead of a Tuesday storm — to announce mandatory evacuation orders for communities below the Thomas, Whittier, Alamo and Sherpa fire burn areas. Above, from left, are Sheriff Bill Brown, Rob Lewin, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, and Kevin Taylor, assistant chief of the Montecito Fire Protection District. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

With another storm expected to douse Santa Barbara County beginning Tuesday morning, emergency officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for some communities below recent wildfire burn areas.

The mandatory orders — affecting some 2,100 residences — went into effect at 8 p.m. Monday for areas the county has identified as being at “extreme high risk” for dangerous debris flows, shown in red on the county risk map.

Areas identified as “high risk” of debris flows, in yellow on the map, are under a “recommended evacuation warning.” Those areas are at risk of flooding or being cut off from services and utilities, the county said. 

Communities affected are near the Thomas, Whittier, Sherpa and Alamo fire burn areas.

Click here to view an online map to determine if your property is in either risk zone.

"I cannot emphasize enough that this storm can produce debris flows in the creeks, and therefore people who live in the red areas need to take action, they need to evacuate," said Rob Lewin, the county's emergency services director, at a Monday afternoon press conference. "There’s no uncertainly in that. What we’re tying to do is have less impact on those who live in the yellow areas."

An updated forecast from the National Weather Service shows that at daybreak on Tuesday, there is potential for rainfall to exceed the 1/2-inch-per-hour threshold that can trigger debris flows, according to the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management.

The storm could produce rainfall rates of 0.7 inches per hour, according to Eric Boldt, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

The heaviestr rainfall was expected between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., according to a forecast update Tuesday morning.

"On the call today from the National Weather Service there was no equivocation that this storm they anticipate to be more intense than the previous storm," said Sheriff Bill Brown. "And they also indicated that this storm has the potential of thunderstorm activity, which is different. Both of those factors are of concern.

"The problem with all of these storms is they're somewhat like a shotgun blast. You can’t predict with complete accuracy where they’re going to hit most intensely."

An evacuation center opened Monday afternoon at the Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave. Residents can contact the county Animal Services hotline at 805.681.4332 for assistance evacuating large and small animals. 

The Tuesday morning storm is expected to arrive during rush hour, and the California Highway Patrol may decide to close Highway 101 between Santa Barbara and the Carpinteria Valley, officials said.

"If we deem lives are at risk, the 101 will be shut down without notice," said CHP Capt. Cindy Pontes.

All South Coast fire agencies are up-staffing for the expected rain event, according to Division Chief Kevin Taylor of the Montecito Fire Protection District.

Crews will attend a 7 a.m. briefing, Taylor said, then be deployed throughout the affected communities "into areas where the debris flows are not expected to occur."

From those vantage points, they will be able to quickly respond to any developing problems.

An urban search-and-rescue regional task force will be deployed, along with two water-rescue teams, Taylor said.

The only outside resources will be coming from the California National Guard, which is dispatching 10 high-water vehicles, Taylor said.

National Weather Service forecasters have issued a flash flood watch from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

County officials redefined their evacuation plans for storm events, according to a statement released earlier Monday, and may evacuate extreme risk areas or both the extreme and high risk areas ahead of a storm that has potential to cause debris flows.

The county ordered evacuations for both areas during a March 2 storm, but decided to issue mandatory evacuation orders only for the "extreme risk" areas — which are closer to creeks and other water courses — for Tuesday's storm. 

County officials also redefined some Carpinteria areas as high risk, downgraded from extreme risk, and updated the online debris flow map on Sunday. 

"The decision whether to issue evacuation warnings and orders for both risk areas will be based on a number of factors: projected amount and intensity of rainfall; capacity of debris basins and creek channels at the time of a predicted storm; status of potential obstructions that can change the direction of water flow; the level of ground saturation; and, the risk of damage to basic utilities," the county said in a statement.

The evacuation orders will affect some but not local schools, both public and private, Lewin said:

» Westmont is on spring break. Students who are still present will shelter in place.

» Santa Barbara City College will be on normal schedule.

» Montecito Union School students will be going to Hope School.

» All Carpinteria schools will be open as usual.

» All Santa Barbara Unified School District campuses will be open as usual.

» Cold Spring School will be open as usual.

» Crane School will be closed and students will be doing remote learning.

Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.

» Click here for the Ready Santa Barbara County website.

» Click here for the latest forecast.

» Click here to sign up for Noozhawk’s free breaking news text alerts to your cell phone.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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.

The Santa Barbara County map for South Coast communities below the Thomas Fire burn area shows communities at extreme risk of dangerous debris flows, in red, and high risk, in yellow. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara County map for South Coast communities below the Thomas Fire burn area shows communities at extreme risk of dangerous debris flows, in red, and high risk, in yellow.  (Santa Barbara County photo)

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