On Two Year Anniversary Of Deadly Montecito Debris Flow, Survivor Remembers Fateful Day

Jan 9, 2020

It was a day no one who lived through it will ever forget.  Water, mud and debris rolled through Santa Barbara County’s foothills, killing 23 people, injuring more than 160, and destroying or damaging hundreds of homes. It was four in the morning on January 9th, 2018. The still burning Thomas brush fire had stripped the mountains above Montecito bare, and heavy rain sent the torrent streaming through the community.

Marco Farrell know the night before there could be problems. When he got up at his Olive Mill Road home to check the situation at about 3:45 a.m., he saw the glow up the hill of a fire caused by a gas line which had been hit by debris, and exploded.

Farrell says other neighbors had also gone outside, with everyone looking at the mysterious glow. A friend of his pulled up outside of the house in a van. But Ferrell could see the debris coming, and that’s when he yelled at his friend to leave.  His friend made it to safety, but the debris was sweeping downhill towards the Olive Mill Road home Farrell shared with his father, and mother.

He shouted a warning to his mother, who was up. They woke up his father. Suddenly, a wall of mud and debris crashed into the house. Ferrell says they tried to stay calm, as waist deep mud rolled through the house. Fortunately, he had opened up a back door in the home, so instead of filling the house, it passed through.

Farrell tried at one point to use his surfboard to evacuate his parents, and dog from the house, but realized it was too dangerous. Finally, about 90 minutes into the ordeal, Ferrell, his parents, and his dog were all rescued by firefighters.

The family’s home was gutted, but there was no question they would rebuild. After living in seven different temporary places, they were able to return to a rebuilt home in October.

Farrell admits there have been some aftereffects. When he returned home, he would sometimes wake up when big trucks rumbled by, because it would remind him of the sound of the debris flow. And, rain still makes him a bit edgy. But, he says Montecito is home.

And, he feels the community is actually stronger than it was before the disaster. He notes that in recent years, many people had added high hedges and fences, isolating their homes from neighbors. And, once low key Coast Village Road suddenly became dotted with valet stands.

But, Farrell says the debris flow both figuratively and literally swept away some of those fences, and hedges which had become barriers, and that there’s a new sense of friendliness, and togetherness in the community.