Trucks hauling debris
Trucks haul loads away from the Santa Monica debris basin above Carpinteria in February 2018.  (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk file photo)

Santa  Barbara County on Wednesday extended its recommended evacuation warnings for South Coast communities ahead of a storm officials say could trigger debris flows and flooding below recent burn areas, including Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito and Carpinteria. 

County emergency officials decided not to issue a mandatory evacuation order Wednesday night, but instead will wait to see how the storm forecast changes – or doesn’t – in the 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. updates from the National Weather Service, Sheriff Bill Brown said at a press briefing.

The forecast as of Wednesday expected the heaviest rainfall to hit the South Coast between late Thursday night, around midnight, and 6 a.m. Friday.

Rainfall during that time could hit the 1/2-inch-per-hour rate that can trigger mud and debris flows, said Eric Boldt, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“There’s a very likely scenario that we will order an evacuation tomorrow morning if the storm either stays at the current predicted level or if it is predicted to intensify,” Brown said.

Evacuation warnings are in effect for communities below the Thomas Fire, Sherpa Fire and Whittier Fire burn areas on the South Coast. 

Anyone with access or mobility needs is urged to evacuate now, and people are also advised to evacuate large animals.

Sandbag stations were opened throughout the South Coast Wednesday.

Sandbag stations were opened throughout the South Coast Wednesday.  (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

The local chapter of the American Red Cross opened an evacuation center at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real in Santa Barbara, on Wednesday, and a large-animal evacuation shelter is also at the site.  

“This will be a minor league storm, not a major league storm like the one we saw in January, but we have to be careful because minor leaguers can hit it out of the park sometimes,” Boldt said.

The biggest concern is for the moderate to heavy rainfall early Friday morning, with the potential for debris-flow-causing intensities, he said.

Skies should clear up later Friday morning with a few showers in the evening, but those will not be anything to worry about, he added.

The National Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Watch for the storm, saying, “the heaviest rain is expected to occur Thursday night through Friday morning when rainfall rates could reach a 1/2-inch per hour, meeting the very low end of the USGS criteria for mud and debris flows over the Whittier, Thomas, Creek, and La Tuna burn areas.

The south facing mountain slopes from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles Counties will be most at risk for heavy rain due to the strong south to southwest winds expected.

After the main front goes through Friday morning showers are expected to continue off and on through Saturday, though intensities during this time are expected to be less than a quarter inch per hour and not pose any risk to burn areas.”

The Flash Flood Watch applies to the Santa Ynez Valley and the South Coast.

If evacuation orders are issued Thursday, they will apply to about 30,000 residents who live in communities affected by the Thomas Fire burn area, Brown said.

Deputies and other law enforcement personnel will be going door-to-door notifying residents to leave, but the priority will be contacting people close to creeks and other water courses, in the “extreme risk” areas on the county’s debris flow risk map, Brown said, adding that they will not be able to get to every house.

CalFire crews work on Santa Isabel Lane near North Jameson Lane Wednesday afternoon ahead of the storm.

CalFire crews work on Santa Isabel Lane near North Jameson Lane Wednesday afternoon ahead of the storm. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Other forms of notification will be used for the remaining homes and businesses.

Click here for Santa Barbara County’s storm-related information page, and here for the map of debris flow risk areas.

Click here for a map of evacuation warning areas on the South Coast, and search your address.

The California Highway Patrol will shut down Highway 101 between Milpas Street in Santa Barbara and Highway 150, near Carpinteria, late Thursday night if mandatory evacuation orders are issued.

CHP Capt. Cindy Pontes said Highway 101 would only be closed after a mandatory evacuation order is in effect, and everyone had the opportunity to evacuate. 

“Trust me, the CHP is not in the business of shutting down freeways,” she said, adding that the agency would probably close the roadway just before midnight – right before the storm’s expected to drop heavier rainfall – and only keep it closed as long as necessary. It is not a decision the CHP takes lightly, she added.

Santa Barbara County fire departments will increase their staffing levels from 8 a.m. Thursday to 8 a.m. Friday in anticipation of the risk of isolated mud and debris flows near burn areas, County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said Wednesday.

That includes departments all over the county — Santa Barbara, Montecito, Carpinteria/Summerland, Santa Maria, Lompoc and Vandenberg Air Force Base — and the higher staffing level will make more equipment and crews available, including a swift water rescue team and an urban search and rescue team, Zaniboni said. 

Some Montecito-area schools will relocate classes Thursday and Friday due to the storm: ​Montecito Union School will have students at Hope Elementary District campuses in Santa Barbara and Cold Spring School will relocate to 7421 Mirano Drive in Goleta, the site of The Waldorf School of Santa Barbara and South Coast Montessori, according to school officials. 

Residents can sign up here for Aware & Prepare emergency notifications from Santa Barbara County, and get more information about alerts here

Click here to sign up for breaking news text alerts from Noozhawk.

The Freedom Warming Centers for homeless residents will activate Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights due to the weather forecast and the hotline information number is 805.324.2372.

Open locations, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., include: the Santa Maria Salvation Army at 200 W. Cook St.; Peace Lutheran Church in Lompoc at 1000 W. Ocean Ave.; University Methodist Church in Isla Vista at 892 Camino Del Sur; First Presbyterian Church in Santa Barbara at 21 E. Constance Ave.; and Carpinteria Community Church at 1111 Vallecito Road, according to organizers.

Click here for the latest forecast

Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story. 

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at