Friday, November 16 , 2018, 2:03 am | Fair 48º

 
 
 
 

Threat of Flooding, Debris Flows 10 Times Greater After Thomas Fire, Santa Barbara Officials Say

County advises residents to get prepared and sign up for emergency alerts; heavy rainfall expected in the region as a storm hits Monday night and Tuesday

Mark Jackson, meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Los Angeles/Oxnard station, talks about the threat of flash floods and mud flows in the aftermath of the Thomas Fire during a press conference in Carpinteria Friday. The first “significant” rainstorm of 2018 expected to hit Monday night, he said. Click to view larger
Mark Jackson, meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Los Angeles/Oxnard station, talks about the threat of flash floods and mud flows in the aftermath of the Thomas Fire during a press conference in Carpinteria Friday. The first “significant” rainstorm of 2018 expected to hit Monday night, he said. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

With the first major rain of the season predicted to hit early next week, Santa Barbara County officials warn the Thomas Fire significantly increased the risk of debris flows, rockfalls and flooding.

Speaking outside Carpinteria City Hall on Friday morning, Tom Fayram, the county's water resources deputy director, said the threat of flash flooding, debris and mud flows are estimated to be 10 times greater than before the fire.

“It’s a real risk that should be taken seriously,” Fayram said. “It’s critical that property owners and residents are aware of their environment, and understand where they are in relationship to the burn area and flood hazards.”  

The U.S. Geological Survey has analyzed the fire-scorched areas to determine its vulnerability to debris flows, mudslides and flash floods, according to Mark Jackson, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

The county posted an interactive map on its website allowing residents to enter an address to check where they are located in potential post-fire hazard areas from the Thomas Fire, Sherpa Fire and Whittier Fire.

Scroll down to view the map. 

Jackson said moderate to heavy rainfall is expected to move through the county on Monday night into Tuesday morning.

“The one saving grace in this storm system is that it will move through quickly,” Jackson said. “We are fairly certain on the rainfall amounts, but not as certain on the timing.” 

He said the storm could drop an estimated 1-2 inches of rain for areas along the coast and valleys, and some mountain and foothills regions could get up to 4 inches of rain in that period. 

A screenshot of the Santa Barbara County post-fire hazards map shows the flooding risk areas in blue. Click to view larger
A screenshot of the Santa Barbara County post-fire hazards map shows the flooding risk areas in blue.  (Courtesy photo)

Peak rainfall rates are predicted at a half inch to 1 inch per hour, he said, with the potential for thunderstorms through the area.

“When you get that kind for rain rate on a fresh burn area, the water moves right off the surface of the burn area, and it carries anything that’s loose — dirt, rocks or burned timber comes down the hillside,” Jackson said.

Ahead of the storm, Jackson said, south winds remain on track to develop with gusts up to 40 mph on the coast, and “possibly damaging” winds in the mountains and higher elevation. 

County officials said the rain will likely impact driving mobility and transportation operations of key roads and U.S. Highway 101. 

“Factor that in your planning,” Fayram said. 

Rob Lewin, the county's director of emergency management, said the Thomas Fire burned more than 17 named canyons in the county, and “many unnamed ones.”

The Thomas Fire is the state’s largest wildfire on record, scorching 281,893 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties as of Friday. 

Lewin stressed the importance for residents and visitors to register for emergency alerts through the Aware and Prepare program.

The county also has information on its Thomas Fire website about storm preparedness and the homeowner's guide for flood prevention and response.

Lewin said during severe weather events, emergency planning officials can be notified as little as 30 minutes before the rain hits the footprint of a fire.

Rob Lewin, Santa Barbara County’s director of emergency management, encourages residents and visitors to register for emergency alerts through the Aware and Prepare program. Click to view larger
Rob Lewin, Santa Barbara County’s director of emergency management, encourages residents and visitors to register for emergency alerts through the Aware and Prepare program.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

“Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of warning with the weather,” Lewin said. “Sometimes we have no notice. Make sure you have a plan and disaster kit ready.” 

It is clear from the Santa Barbara County post-fire hazard map that large areas of the Carpinteria Valley are at risk of flooding, in addition to other South Coast areas. 

Lewin explained that the properties within the Thomas Fire burn area and within a 1/4-mile of the burn area's perimeter have an increased threat from rockslides and mudslides from slopes above the property, or by the debris, rocks and water that is brought down the watercourses from on the mountain. 

Properties near creeks have a higher risk from debris flows that may cause water to spill over the banks of the watercourse.

A creek that could be dry all year can become a force of debris, rocks, mud and water, officials said. 

Properties in the lowlands and flood zones are at extra risk from flooding and mud flows that could occur from large amounts of runoff from the mountains which have little or no vegetation. 

“The impact may not be as fast and furious as the upper areas, but it still may be potentially damaging and deadly,” Lewin said. 

Burn Area Emergency Response team coordinator Kevin Cooper said scientists have used soil properties, burn severity, rainfall characteristics and various other components to estimated the possibility of flooding and a debris flow.

“Once the debris flows may have been initiated, it does not leave a lot of time — maybe 10 to 20 minutes before it comes down,” Cooper said. “It’s important…to respect the alerts — just waiting for a notification that is coming is too late.”

Sandbags are available for free throughout the county and locations are listed on the website here.

The city of Santa Barbara recently released pickup hours for Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 401 E. Yanonali St. 

County staff will hold a public meeting at 5 p.m. Monday to talk more about damage to local canyons and the watershed, flood and hazard risks due to erosion, debris flows and flooding, disaster preparedness and flood prevention tips and recovery efforts.

It will be held in the board hearing room on the fourth floor of the Santa Barbara County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.

The community meeting will be televised on CSBTV20 and the county’s Facebook and YouTube accounts.

“We need to organize and inform the public about a clear and present danger,” Santa Barbara County First District Supervisor Das Williams said. 

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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