Alisal Fire burn scar threatened by flash floods
Santa Barbara County Chief Executive Officer and Director of Emergency Services Mona Miyasato signed a proclamation of local emergency Sunday afternoon in preparation for today’s storm.
The document narrows on the Alisal Fire burn scar — an area which “poses serious risks of rock falls, flooding and debris flows,” the proclamation says.
The proclamation allows the county to use all resources it deems necessary to respond to the damages and seek funding through the California Disaster Assistance Act.
The county requests Gov. Gavin Newsom to proclaim a State of Emergency as a result of the storm — which began causing mudslides in Northern California Sunday morning.
The rainfall hitting Santa Barbara County is part of a powerful system called a “bomb cyclone” with an atmospheric river (a concentrated flow of moisture) affecting nearly all of the West Coast.
The National Weather Service in Los Angeles issued a flash flood warning for the Alisal Fire burn scar area from 6 a.m. to noon today.
Joe Sirard, meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Oxnard office, said there’s a risk of debris flow from the burn scar’s canyons to the beach.
“Between 7-10 a.m., we could see some rainfall rates go up to an inch an hour or so. But the important thing is how much rainfall we get in, say, 15 minutes,” he told the News-Press.
Mr. Sirard said the main cold front will bring the heaviest rains and winds with gusts of up to 50 mph near the Gaviota Coast. Driving conditions can be hazardous during this time.
Mark Jackson, another National Weather Service meteorologist, described the burn area’s concerning position during a storm-preparedness press conference Friday.
“What happens with a brand new fire like this, the soils are hydrophobic, meaning that all the oils from the fire have gotten into the soil. So it’s literally afraid of water, so any water that hits that soil will come down the slope and will take any loose mud, any debris, any rocks, any burn materials down the slope,” he said.
Water and mud travels quickly down the steep incline of the area. Officials warned residents to evacuate prior to any rainfall.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office Commander Darrin Fotheringham described the roadway in the area as “perilous” during the press conference.
“The amount of brush that’s on the side of the roads that may help prevent vehicles from going down into the canyon has also been burned out,” he said. “So that road is a potentially dangerous road under the current conditions, and any weather whatsoever makes it far more dangerous.”
County staff began distributing information to evacuation-area residents Friday, when officials had issued an evacuation warning.
Chris Sneddon, deputy director of transportation, represented Public Works in Friday’s press conference.
He said crews have cleared 1,500 feet of the creek channel in the burn scar and discarded about 600-800 cubic yards of material.
They freed six low-water crossings, where the road crosses through the creek.
Firefighters cleared fallen trees from the Refugio Road area Friday to prevent them from blocking the roadway.
The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services tweeted Saturday night, shortly after the evacuation order was issued, that it was monitoring recent burn scars and sent resources to Santa Barbara County. Cal OES said it would augment local response as needed.
The evacuation center for the incident is Santa Barbara City College’s Wake Center, at 300 N. Turnpike Road. It opened at noon Sunday, and no one had arrived for help by 1 p.m.
Erick McCurdy, an American Red Cross disaster services volunteer, said the residents of the Alisal Fire burn scar are typically independent. He doesn’t know how many people will need his help, but he is prepared if they arrive.
The center provides cots for sleeping, food and health services (including mental and spiritual health, if requested).
Mr. McCurdy has volunteered for 30 years and says every emergency is unique.
Santa Barbara Equine Assistance & Evac Team Inc. President Kathy O’Connor, another long-time emergency responder, said she was ready to help Sunday if needed.
She had not heard of any animals coming to Earl Warren Showgrounds, where livestock are housed in evacuations, so Equine Evac waits on standby.
For evacuation information and other resources, go to readysbc.org/alisal-fire.