At least eight people were killed in Southern California on Tuesday when torrential rain delivered mud and debris streaming through Montecito at Santa Barbara County — a nightmarish development for a neighborhood that only suffered the Thomas Fireand also the worst wildfire in state history.
The heavy rain burst at around 2:30 a.m., rapidly inducing “waist-high” mudflows and sending enormous boulders from the slopes into residential neighborhoods. Besides the eight individuals confirmed dead, and at least 25 were reported wounded, and rescue crews are hunting space homes for sailors. In one instance, a 14-year-old girl was saved in a “tangled wreck of a home” from firefighters.
“It’s going to be worse than anybody envisioned for our area,” Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason advised the Los Angeles Times. “After our fire, this is actually the worst-case situation” Eliason included, “we will undoubtedly have more,” referring to deaths from the landslide.
View in Montecito from the air. Areas that were roadways, driveways, and houses, are now unrecognizable because of the large amount of sand and debris flows. pic.twitter.com/dbsUPw3mrL
— VenturaCoAirUnit (@VCAirUnit) January 9, 2018
The mudslides follow on directly from one of California’s worst fire seasons, which abandoned steep slopes covered in ash and utterly barren of any type of vegetation. As a result, the property is less able to absorb water, leaving the surrounding areas at risk to landslides and flash flooding. A significant deficiency of precipitation during the end of 2017 only worsened this issue.
Tens of thousands of inhabitants in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties are now being forced to evacuate only weeks after the Thomas Fire forced them to do the same.
#CAstorm– Santa Barbara County Firefighter’s use an internet search dog to look for victims where multiple houses once stood at Montecito following flooding because of heavy rain. pic.twitter.com/xZcI4PNmej
— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) January 9, 2018
“In such patches of especially high burn strength, nearly all vegetation was consumed by fire,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain lately explained on his weather website. “This usually means that rain has a quite difficult time soaking into the ground — and is instead forced to stream downhill as nearly instantaneous runoff.”
The devastating fires that generated the conditions for its mudslides fit into a pattern of extreme and damaging fires fueled by climate change. Wildfire season has grown from five months from the 1970s to seven months now, consuming more and more acres of property. Meanwhile, an October 2017 research found that rising temperatures were to blame for nearly half of wildfire increases on the West Coast since the 1970s.
“Climate change does not only increase temperatures. It’s not just it’s warm this year, it is that it’s been warmer on average for decades,” Leroy Westerling, professor of management of complex systems in the University of California, Merced, said. “It’s this long-term, cumulative drying that is because of warmer temperatures”