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Local News

No Major Incidents Reported in First Major Storm Following Montecito Debris Flows

All mandatory evacuation orders lifted at 9 a.m. Friday; minor flooding occurred in South Coast communities below recent burn areas

 

This story was last updated at 9:30 a.m.

Santa Barbara County’s South Coast made it through Friday’s storm without any major incidents, a relief after the first significant rain following the destructive Jan. 9 debris flows.

“I think we’re looking pretty good as long as we can make it through the morning,” said Mike Eliason, a Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman.

Minor flooding was reported in communities below recent burn areas, including Montecito, and the National Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Warning for Thomas Fire communities around 3 a.m., which expired at 6:45 a.m.

In Carpinteria, creeks that flooded Highway 101 on Jan. 9 were not even a third full on Friday morning, Eliason said.

Santa Barbara County issued mandatory evacuations Thursday for South Coast areas below the Thomas Fire, Whittier Fire and Sherpa Fire burn areas since the storm had potential to reach debris-flow-causing rainfall rates overnight.

Those evacuation orders were lifted at 9 a.m. Friday for all areas.

Some areas in the Thomas Fire burn area did get the 1/2-inch per hour rainfall rate, including the KTYD and El Deseo monitoring stations in the mountains, said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Flooding was reported in Montecito areas early Friday morning, including HIghway 192 at Tabor Lane. Click to view larger
Flooding was reported in Montecito areas early Friday morning, including HIghway 192 at Tabor Lane.  (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

Many Santa Barbara County South Coast mountain areas received more than 2 inches of rainfall as of 7 a.m. Friday, with more still falling. 

The heaviest rainfall was starting to move out of Santa Barbara County by 7:30 a.m., Seto said, but the area could get showers through Friday night and into Saturday.

The California Highway Patrol never closed Highway 101 between Montecito and Carpinteria. 

The highest one-hour rainfall rate in the Whittier Fire area was 0.61 inch per hour, with a total of 2.35 inches, and a rate of 0.70 inch per hour was recorded in the Thomas Fire burn area in Santa Barbara County, with 3.31 inches total as of 7:45 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.

“The worst of the storm has passed and we are cautiously optimistic that due to a significant amount of pre-storm preparation we have come through this with minimal impact,” said Rob ​Lewin, director of the Office of Emergency Management, in a statement Friday morning. “Crews are currently completing assessment of all roads, debris basins, condition of utilities and other public facilities for damage or impact,” he said.

No damage was reported to the Montecito Water District, Montecito Sanitary District, Southern California Edison or SoCal Gas infrastructure, according to the county.

Santa Barbara County’s debris flow risk map for the Thomas Fire burn area includes extreme risk areas, in red, and high risk areas, in yellow. The county issued mandatory evacuation orders for people in these areas Thursday. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County’s debris flow risk map for the Thomas Fire burn area includes extreme risk areas, in red, and high risk areas, in yellow. The county issued mandatory evacuation orders for people in these areas Thursday.  (Santa Barbara County photo)

“If not for the channel clearing performed since the 1/9 Debris Flow, we would have had problems with this storm,” said Tom Fayram, who heads county Flood Control.

The county said 87 percent of residents in the “extreme risk area” left mandatory evacuation zones. These are areas near creeks and other waterways, represented in red on the county’s debris flow risk map.

Some roadway flooding was reported in the Montecito area and the county said Romero Canyon Road would be closed at the Romero Creek crossing until further notice due to a debris flow.

Flooding was also reported on Highway 192 in the area of Bella Vista Drive. 

The Flash Flood Warning issued early Friday for the Thomas Fire burn area and adjacent communities came at about 2:45 a.m. as the National Weather Service reported that Doppler radar was showing heavy rain on the western edge of the Thomas Fire.

Rainfall rates were meeting the 30-minute and 1-hour thresholds for 0.30 and 0.50, respectively.

“Flash flooding and mud and debris flows are expected to begin shortly on the western edge and then spread eastward,” forecasters said.

Debris blocks Romero Canyon Road at the creek crossing Friday morning. Click to view larger
Debris blocks Romero Canyon Road at the creek crossing Friday morning.  (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

Residents living in or immediately downstream from the Thomas Fire area were urged to take immediate precautions to protect life and property.

The warning was issued through 6:45 a.m., and a lower-level Flash Flood Watch was in effect for much of the South Coast through 9 a.m. 

County officials said minor roadway flooding and debris flows were possible around the Whittier Fire and Sherpa Fire burn areas and flooding was expected on Highway 101 near Gaviota State Park, Highway 154 over San Marcos Pass, and near Lake Cachuma. 

As of 6:15 a.m., San Marcos Pass had received 3.37 inches of rain, and 2.32 inches in the previous six hours.

The gauges at the Doulton Tunnel above Montecito and the Edison Trail above Carpinteria had each received about 0.40 inches of rain within an hour, between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. 

Shortly after 4 a.m., Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies reported water, rocks and debris from Romero Creek coming over the roadway on the 2400 block of Bella Vista Drive.

Arroyo Paredon Creek flows from recent rainfall near Via Real in Carpinteria Friday morning. Click to view larger
Arroyo Paredon Creek flows from recent rainfall near Via Real in Carpinteria Friday morning. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

Highway 192 was flooded in the area of Bella Vista Drive and residents were asked to stay out of the area, the California Highway Patrol said around 6:40 a.m.

A Montecito Fire Protection District patrol told Noozhawk there was some minor surface street flooding near the badly damaged Glen Oaks Drive neighborhood.

At 4:30 a.m., Hot Springs Creek was about a foot deep as it flowed unimpeded under the closed East Valley Road bridge below Parra Grande Lane between Hot Springs and Sycamore Canyon roads.

Most of the Montecito and Carpinteria areas were issued mandatory evacuation orders on Thursday, but it was not known how many people heeded the orders.

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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.

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