More than half of the Cave Fire burn area occurred on private lands outside the Los Padres National Forest boundary, and the Cal Fire-led Watershed Emergency Response Team began evaluating post-fire risks this week.
A team of four experts began examining the Cave Fire burn area on Monday afternoon, Pete Cafferata, a forest hydrologist, said Thursday evening during a community meeting at Direct Relief International in Santa Barbara.
WERT personnel will evaluate the post-fire hazards, including debris flows, flooding and rock fall, among other watershed assessments.
“We don’t do every fire that is more than 500 acres like the Forest Service does,” he said. “Generally, we do fires that have high risks of life, safety and property threats from flooding and debris flows, and the county asked us to look at the Cave Fire.”
The U.S. Forest Service’s Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER) team is analyzing similar impacts, including the imminent post-fire threats to human life, safety, property and critical resources on federal lands.
The BAER team and WERT will prepare reports, and officials can use them in preparing for future storms.
Forty-six percent of the Cave Fire burn area occurred on federal lands, Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said.
The BAER report also is examining the Maria Ygnacio and San Antonio Creek drainages, Hartwig said.
The San Antonio Creek debris basin, above Tucker’s Grove Park, and the Maria Ygnacio Creek are watersheds of concern, said Tom Fayram, the county’s deputy public works director.
Both watersheds were burned by the blaze.
Crews installed debris racks, which are common after a fire, at the Maria Ygnacio Creek Main Branch Debris Basin and atkj Tuckers Grove Park.
Crews also plan to install an additional debris rack at the Maria Ygnacio Creek East Branch Debris Basin, and work will begin shortly, Fayram said.
County Flood Control crews will continue to monitor the creek channels, debris racks and basins, as well as take additional actions as necessary, Fayram said.
The Cave Fire burn area covers a three-mile section of Highway 154 from Painted Cave to San Antonio Creek roads, said Jim Shivers, a Caltrans District 5 spokesman.
“That has been the brunt of where we have been working and responding in recent days,” Shivers told the crowd of more than 75 people.
Workers have restored eight fire-damaged sections of guardrail and they are restoring drainage facilities, according to Shivers.
The westbound Highway 154 passing lane between San Antonio Creek and Painted Cave roads will be closed beginning Friday, Shivers said.
The temporary shutdown is necessary so Caltrans can create additional catchment for roadside ditches below the Cave Fire burn scar, he said. Caltrans will install approximately 1,000 feet of K-rail to facilitate lane reduction.
“Drive safely,” Shivers said.
On Thursday, county public safety officials spoke of the preparations and the decision-making process in advance of the winter storm season.
There is a heightened risk of flooding and debris flows during winter storms because of the fresh burn scar of the Cave Fire in the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara, according to county officials.
The southern foothills and surrounding communities within the county have experienced occasional flooding and rockslides.
Public safety officials will evaluate each storm and determine what steps, if any, the public should take if rains pose debris flow or flooding potential.
A map was released earlier in December by public safety agencies to provide awareness of the Cave Fire burn scar, and to serve as an emergency preparedness resource for residents who live in and around the fire burn areas.
Residents can enter an address into the map to check where they are located in potential post-fire hazard areas.
The Cave Fire was 100 percent contained on Dec. 14.
The fire erupted in the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara on Nov. 25. The blaze charred 3,126 acres, threatening dozens of structures, closing Highway 154 for several days and prompting widespread evacuations.
The Cave Fire broke out along East Camino Cielo near Painted Cave Road, on Los Padres National Forest land east of Highway 154.