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Even As Hot Weather Continues, Crews Gear Up For Flood, Debris Flow Potential In Fire Burn Zones

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One of the hard hit Montecito neighborhoods after the 1/9 debros flow, which killed 23 people, and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes

Monday is the first day of fall, and while we still have hot weather in the forecast, rain could soon be just around the corner. That could once again potentially mean some evacuations for South Coast residents below brush fire burn zones, and long days and night for public safety workers.

It’s been more than a year and a half since the deadly 1/9 debris flow in Montecito killed 23 people, and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes. The December, 2017 Thomas Fire stripped mountainsides above Montecito, setting the stage for the debris flows when heavy rain came a month later.

The area came through last rainfall season in good shape, but it wasn’t easy. Santa Barbara County Deputy Public Works Director Tom Fayram says even though another major disaster was averted, there were issues. During one February storm, a portion of Highway 101 even was closed for a few hours.

Public safety officials have been busy gearing up for the next rainfall season. Fayram says as the mountain slopes charred by the Thomas Fire continue to recover, the threat is slightly reduced. But, he says the danger’s form has changed The initial issue was from large boulders. Now, the concern is about a combination of floodwaters and smaller debris.

One of the big projects is modifying some key debris basins in the Montecito area. And, the Santa Barbara County public works official says they are also working to add two new basins.

The non-profit group The Partnership for Resilient Communities raised money for, and added debris nets on San Ysidro, Cold Springs, and Buena Vista Creeks, with more planned. The nets are designed to let small rocks and debris pass through, but to catch dangerous large rocks.

Fayram says they’ve been keep a close eye on all of the brush fire burn areas in the county, including the Alamo, Whittier, Sherpa, and Holiday fire burn zones. But, he says because of the proximity to homes, the biggest concern remains on the South Coast, near Montecito and Summerland.

While the threat may not be as extreme as it was in 2018 or earlier this year, it’s still there. And despite the best flood control efforts, evacuations may once again be needed to insure public safety as we move through fall, winter, and spring rainfall.