Even As Thomas Fire Still Burns, Concern Shifting To Potential For Flash Floods, Mudslides

Jan 3, 2018

The crackle of the Thomas Fire is gone from Ventura and Montecito.

But, besides the destruction it’s left behind, the largest brush fire in modern day history in the state created a new threat: Flash flooding, debris flows, and mudslides.

Jeff Pratt, who is Director of Ventura County’s Public Works Agency, says the scope of the potential flooding is almost overwhelming. The fire burned close to 282,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. That’s 440 square miles, near the size of the City of Los Angeles.

Potential hotspots for problems include areas like Ventura, Fillmore, and Montecito, as well as portions of a number of streets, and roadways like Highway 101, Highway 150, and Highway 33. But, officials who deal with flood control issues on the South Coast say trying to pinpoint all of the potential trouble spots is difficult.

Tom Fayram is Deputy Director for the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department Water Resources Division. Fayram says the size would have created huge flooding concerns by itself, but it’s compounded by the fact we are already in the rainfall season. Aside from cleaning flood control and debris basins, there is no time for major protection projects.

Pratt says people need to assess the risk to their property, think about flood insurance if there is a potential threat, and above all, be alert for evacuation orders during rainfall.

Officials admit they are concerned that unlike a fire, where you can see the flames and smoke, it’s more difficult to assess the flooding potential from a storm. They say there probably will be some false calls, and they worry it could prompt some people to ignore evacuation orders.

Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties have a number of resources available online. In Ventura County, you can go to venturacountyrecovers.org, and in Santa Barbara County there is information at countyofsb.org.