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Santa Barbara lifts evacuation in mudslide zone


Southern California experienced more than 2,200 powerful pulses of lightning during a five hour period of time.

Santa Barbara County lifted an evacuation order for thousands of hillside residents Wednesday after a storm moved through without triggering feared mudslides in areas scarred by a 2017 wildfire.

The county sheriff’s Office had issued the evacuation order on Tuesday for 3,000 residents, including some living in Montecito, an unincorporated area on the coast that was slammed by the flow of dangerous debris in January 2018.

A flash flood watch by the National Weather Service for Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties also expired Wednesday morning, but authorities asked residents to remain vigilant.

“Stay alert to changing conditions,” the county said in a tweet after announcing the lifting of the order. “Some roads may be impassable or have standing water & mud. Use caution when returning home and navigating these areas.”

The flash flood watch had covered all burn areas, prompting concerns by local authorities of a repeat of the 2018 slides. 

“We do not take these evacuation orders lightly, and while we do know this is very inconvenient, if you are in an evacuation area, please know there is a high risk to life and property,” Sheriff Bill Brown told a news conference earlier this week.

A map from the county’s Office of Emergency Management indicated that much of Montecito, known as the”Red Zone,” was at risk.

“We live in the debris flow risk area so we have to evacuate our family every time, said Abraham Powell, executive director of the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, KSBY reports. “We get tired of it, but we’ve seen what happens when people don’t evacuate and a debris flow happens. We lost friends, we lost neighbors and it’s not worth the risk.”

In January, 2018, 21 people were killed and hundreds of Montecito structures were destroyed or damaged by a debris flow in an area scarred by the Thomas fire, the largest in modern California history. The blaze, which consumed 281,893, began in December 2017 and was not extinguished until June.

Despite mandatory orders, however, many people in Montecito stayed put.

“Nobody’s going into panic mode,” said Ray Dunham, who works in Montecito’s Village Service Station. “They think the threat is way over-exaggerated.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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