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Early March rainstorms forecast as debris flow threatens, evacuations ordered

UPDATE 3/6/19 8 A.M. Evacuation orders are now lifted for all areas of Santa Barbara County. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said many roads may be impassable or have standing water and mud, but the immediate danger of debris flows has passed.

Around 3,000 Santa Barbara County residents are evacuated from their homes once again this week. Rainstorms starting Tuesday are expected to be severe enough to potentially cause debris flows and mudslides, especially with already-saturated ground. The forecast prompted Santa Barbara County officials to issue evacuation orders starting at 4 p.m. on March 5 for those who live near or below the Sherpa, Whittier and Thomas Fire burn scars.

Peak rainfall is expected between 6 and 9 p.m. Tuesday and sometime after 2 a.m. Wednesday, but that’s just a rough estimate, said Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig. Hartwig said at a press conference late Monday the forecast is concerning to all first responders.

“The strong atmospheric river that is predicted could produce up to five inches of rain along the south coast,” Hartwig said.

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning, and Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the state has provided equipment like high-clearance vehicles to be on standby. County public works said debris basins are completely cleaned out, but Brown said debris basins were empty before the January 9, 2018 debris flow disaster in Montecito.

“They are a protective measure, but they're not completely going to stop something from happening in the event that we have a major debris flow,” Brown said.

To see if a property is in the evacuation zone, check the interactive map at www.readySBC.org. Brown says that’s the most updated source of information before and during the storms.

Caltrans is closing Highway 1 at Mud Creek and Paul’s Slide starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

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