Mud coats the interior of Amy Katz’s car after it became submerged while she tried to get out of Rancho Oso RV & Camping Resort in the Santa Ynez Valley following the Jan. 9 storm.
Mud coats the interior of Amy Katz’s car after it became submerged while she tried to get out of Rancho Oso RV & Camping Resort in the Santa Ynez Valley following the Jan. 9 storm. Credit: Amy Katz photo

Guests from Rancho Oso RV & Camping Resort along the Santa Ynez River have been allowed to return to retrieve their RVs after being evacuated from the property following the Jan. 9 storm.

Heavy rainfall and washouts from the storm forced out 400 residents and guests from the campgrounds at 3750 Paradise Road, in Los Padres National Forest about five miles east of Highway 154 in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The campgrounds are closed until at least March 31, according to the Rancho Oso website.

According to Rancho Oso spokeswoman Jennifer Ludovice, guests were evacuated on Jan. 10 and 11.

“There were several stages of the evacuation,” she wrote in an email to Noozhawk. “As groups were prioritized, people initially left only in smaller vehicles, leaving larger RVs and trailers at the campground.

“The departure process was closely coordinated with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, which accompanied departing guests over the highway, which was still closed at that time. We are thankful for the excellent collaboration with the sheriff’s office through the entire process.”

A Santa Barbara County Fire Department equipment operator clears debris from the Rancho Oso access road on Jan. 10, 2023. Credit: Amy Katz photo

County fire Capt. Scott Safechuck said the evacuees were not in distress, but had to be helped out due to the road conditions.

He said county firefighters used wheel loaders to clear the road of mud and debris and then sheriff’s deputies escorted people out in groups.

Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen said Rancho Oso faced significant damage because of flooding from a nearby river.

With the storm stopping and starting, he said, it was difficult for agencies to begin repairing and assessing the damage.

“We’re just trying to pick off where we can and work our way back into the forest,” he said.

Among the challenges work crews face, he added, are downed trees, mudslides and, in some cases, parts of roads “simply buckling or the culverts failing and half the roads falling off and/or crevices.”

Amy Katz, who lives at Rancho Oso year-round, said the campground’s water well was damaged in the deluge and guests did not have access to potable water from the well for two days after the storm.

Katz said she was trying to leave before the evacuation was ordered, but drove into a massive puddle and her all-wheel drive SUV quickly filled with water.

Vehicles get stuck in deep holes and mud on the access road to Rancho Oso after the Jan. 9, 2023 storm. Credit: Amy Katz photo

“It looked like there was solid ground but there was no ground there,” she recounted. “It had become a pool of water.”

Within a minute of her Subaru Forester being submerged, she said, the water had risen to her window.

Katz escaped from her car and returned to the campground with the help of two Rancho Oso rangers. Firefighters later pulled the vehicle out of the hole.

“I was really shocked that the water came in instantly,” she said. “I had always envisioned that if my car had fallen in the water, that there would be a period of time when … the water wouldn’t come in, but it came in.

“I could see out of my window that it was a moving creek and it was rising.”

Los Padres National Forest remains closed to the public, and only residents have been let back in temporarily to retrieve their belongings.

According to Katz, it could be as long as four months before permanent residents are allowed to return.

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Grace Kitayama, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Grace Kitayama is a Noozhawk staff writer.