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Santa Barbara County facing threats from potential flash floods and debris flow

The winter storm flooded Highway 101 at San Ysidro Creek this afternoon.
CalTrans District 5 Twitter
The winter storm flooded Highway 101 at San Ysidro Creek this afternoon.

Heavy rain is creating risks for flash flooding, debris flow and other hazards throughout Santa Barbara County. Areas including Montecito, Gaviota, the Santa Ynez Mountains, and parts of Santa Barbara are under mandatory evacuation orders.

An interactive map of the county's evacuation orders is available here.

Officials are asking people to stay home if they are not under an evacuation order or in immediate danger. Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Hartwig warned of the dangers of driving in the storm at a press conference today.

“Our rescues that take place here in this county are often because of folks who misjudge the danger of moving water,” Hartwig said.

“Six inches of moving water is enough to take somebody off their feet if they're attempting to cross a river or flowing water. As little as 18 inches can actually float a car downstream," he said.

A map of the areas in Santa Barbara County under an evacuation warning.
Santa Barbara County
A map of the areas in Santa Barbara County under evacuation orders is online at readysbc.org.

According to county officials, there is also potential for a dangerous debris flow in the area. The last debris flow from the Thomas Fire burn scar in 2018 caused 23 deaths and damaged more than 500 structures in the Montecito area.

"The community is at risk for a second debris flow from the Thomas fire burn scar,” Montecito Fire Protection District Chief Kevin Taylor said. “We're taking this risk so seriously that we have more than 200 rescuers pre-positioned in our community ready for that event.”

Taylor said there are mandatory evacuation orders in some areas in the county. You can visit readysbc.org to check whether or not your home is located in an evacuation zone.

An evacuation center is open at the Wake Center located at 300 North Turnpike Road in Santa Barbara.

KCBX Reporter Amanda Wernik graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a BS in Journalism. Amanda is currently a fellow with the USC Center for Health Journalism, completing a data fellowship that will result in a news feature series to air on KCBX in the winter of 2024.