As reported in an earlier edition of the Outside Insider (Coming Like a Freight Train), the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department has begun an aggressive effort to clean out creeks, streams, and other drainage areas below the Gap Fire burn area that are at risk of being flooded due to possible increased storm water runoff this winter.
The U.S. Forest Service has estimated to county officials that as much as 300,000 cubic yards of dirt, muddy debris, and other burnt material could flow down the steep slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains into the City of Goleta and other county areas because the 9,940-acre Gap Fire denuded the area of vegetation. A typical commercial dump truck has a capacity of only about 10 cubic yards.
“We’re working to prepare the area for the flood and mud,” said Tom Fayram, deputy director for the County Public Works Department who oversees the County Flood Control District. “It may not come all at once, but the public needs to know there is a potential for some serious flooding problems that we cannot control if we get heavy rain this winter.”
Information about the county’s efforts, flood insurance availability, and other Gap Fire-related information will be presented at a special Gap Fire Burn Area Community Forum beginning at 6 p.m., Thursday, September 11, at the San Marcos High School Auditorium in Goleta.
County Supervisors Janet Wolf, 2nd District, and Brooks Firestone, 3rd District, are hosting the event. Joining in the event are several county departments, including Office of Emergency Services, Public Works, Fire, Sheriff, and Public Health. The City of Goleta will be participating along with the Santa Barbara Chapter of the American Red Cross, FEMA, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the National Weather Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While the county is doing what it can to prepare for a worst-case scenario, county officials are suggesting that residents and local businesses consider purchasing flood insurance and to have emergency supplies and plans ready.
In particular, residents and business owners need to be aware that flood insurance must be purchased ahead of time in order for the policy to be in effect for the winter. A minimum 30-day grace period is standard for most flood insurance policies from date of purchase before claims can be made.
The County Board of Supervisors last month approved the Public Works Department to work on a variety of projects to help minimize the dangerous impacts now facing large portions of the South Coast area due to the Gap Fire.
The county is working in coordination with the cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara in preparation for what could be a devastating flow of storm water, mud, and other fire-related debris. The Board of Supervisors on August 26 also proclaimed a State of Emergency due to the severity of the impacts posed by the Gap Fire and the strong possibility of flooding this winter.
The Gap Fire burned approximately 9,940 acres this summer primarily in the Los Padres National Forest area of the Santa Ynez Mountains directly above the City of Goleta. USFS officials have told the county that about half the lands that burned are within areas controlled by Los Padres National Forest while the rest are considered privately held lands, including some within the boundaries of the National Forest.
Even before the Gap Fire was extinguished, County Public Works began developing its emergency response plans and lining up heavy equipment to clear sediment basins near the Santa Barbara Airport and clearing about 16 miles of creeks and streams downstream of the fire area.
Additional work planned includes installing debris racks, aerial hydromulching, and public outreach to affected communities. The work is being coordinated through the County’s Office of Emergency Service in coordination with the cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara.
The county is also working with NRCS , which recently approved up to $3.76 million for emergency work, about 80 percent of the project costs for the county-initiated work.
“We are pleased to provide this assistance to Santa Barbara County,” said Charles Davis, NRCS state engineer. “The aftereffect of the Gap Fire poses a serious threat to downstream property and infrastructure, and the NRCS is working closely with the County to help protect lives and property.”