The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office has issued evacuations in anticipation of what Sheriff Bill Brown is describing as, “potentially the strongest storm of the season.” Brown and Montecito Fire Division Chief Kevin Taylor held a press conference earlier today to inform and warn residents of the impending storms. Rain is expected to begin by 8 p.m. tonight with peak rainfall expected between 6 and 11 a.m. at a rate of one-half to one-and-a-quarter inches per hour.
Strong winds from the south are expected to accompany the storm and are of further concern. Winds of 40-60 mph are expected with rates of up to 80 mph in the mountains. The winds will push the storm toward the Thomas, Sherpa, and Whittier burn areas and squeeze more rain from the clouds as they rise up the mountains. High winds may also contribute to power outages and downed trees.
The intensity of the storm contain a potential for debris flow and a high risk to life and property, said Sheriff Brown. Around 75 deputies and Search and Rescue volunteers have been going door to door since 1 p.m today to enforce the evacuation order. Residents are expected to be out of the area by 8 p.m. Sheriff Brown emphasized that the evacuation order is not issued lightly. “We are very aware there is a tremendous impact to the community,” said Brown, who assured he would get residents back into their homes as soon as possible. “We will not keep you away from homes for longer than is necessary,” he said. Brown and emergency managers will reevaluate the evacuation order tomorrow after the first big storm, but a second storm is expected to follow on Saturday and Sunday. Evacuees should prepare to be out at least two nights, said Sheriff Brown.
County Flood Control has been working around the clock to empty out the debris flow basins before the heavy rains. Saturated mud and rock from the previous storm, during which two-and-a-half inches of rain fell, has accumulated, according to the county. The San Ysidro and Montecito debris basins are expected to be empty and at 100 percent capacity by 6 p.m. while the Cold Springs and Romero will be at 80 percent capacity, with 20 percent of their capacity filled from past storms. There’s an increased risk of flooding because of the previous rains, said Sheriff Brown.
As a precautionary measure, more Search and Rescue teams and Sheriff’s deputies will be active, and high-water armored vehicles, a helicopter, two bulldozers, a dispatcher, and a regional task force are on standby. The fire departments are fully staffed, and a type 3 incident command team is also at the ready. The primary area of concern is the Thomas Fire burn scar, because it occurred just over a year ago, said Brown. Sherpa and Whittier areas have higher thresholds. “We’ll be ready to respond to any of the three areas,” said Taylor.
Approximately 3,000 people are being asked to evacuate their homes, with a vast majority in Montecito and Carpinteria. While Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) will be sent out, Sheriff Brown said he wants no one “to have a false sense of security” and encourages everyone to comply with evacuation orders. The evacuation areas are adjacent to waterways that will have problems if flooding or debris flow occur, said Sheriff Brown. Included in the evacuation order are the Biltmore, Montecito Inn, and San Ysidro Ranch.
For help evacuating or general questions about the impending storm, people can contact the emergency call center at (805) 688-5551 or 2-1-1. If someone needs help evacuating animals, they can contact the animal hot line at (805) 681-4322. A Red Cross evacuation center will open at 7 p.m. at the Goleta Valley Community Center (5679 Hollister Ave.). Residents can plug in their address into the interactive map at readysbc.org to learn whether or not they are in the evacuation zone. The website will also have the most up-to-date information. You can sign up for Aware and Prepare alerts at readysbc.org.
Sheriff Brown warned the public about an unconfirmed incident in the Holiday Hill area where an “official looking person” was asking people to evacuate. The Holiday Hill area is not under the evacuation order, and Sheriff Brown said it may be a possible scam to burglarize homes.