Gaviota Floods

Massive Flooding at El Capitan Canyon leads to Evacuations for Sherpa Burn Area

In an urgent Message from the Office of Emergency Management: An Evacuation Warning has been issued for the greater Sherpa Fire Burn area by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff Department beginning 4 am Sunday. 

The Santa Barbara Independent covered the floods at El Capitan Canyon on January 20 that washed away five cabins and 15 cars, with more photos here in the story by Noozhawk. The LA Times has more photos, and the Santa Maria Times has video with rescue workers and gushing water. Here's more video from January 20 at El Capitan Canyon. People in the cabins and campground were rescued with a tracked vehicle, with tank-like treads.

In addition, the historic Orella adobes suffered extensive damage. Gaviota Coast Conservancy board member and descendant of the Presidio founder who built those homes, Guner Tautrim, shared his view from Orella Ranch on January 20, "Today was crazy!! We didn't experience the insane rain fall amounts or intensity but we sure suffered the effects of it. At my place we only measured 2" of rain total (all day) versus the 2" in an hour at Bobby's place. All that upslope rain on the fire-scarred terrain reeked havoc down here. El Cap is totally destroyed. Way way way worse then the fires. Carnage all up the canyon. And Corral Canyon - Las Floras (Exxon Mobil) got a major flushing as well. Sadly the historic Ortega adobes (my great-great-great-grandfather's house) got destroyed. A pile of debris. Venadito Canyon is pretty damaged as well, with lots of mud, blocked culverts and the like. To think more is coming is pretty scary."

Fellow Gaviota Coast resident Bobby Hazard reported on January 20, "Checking the County auto rain gauge at the top of the pass, we had 3 inches between 7 and 10pm, but 1.9 inches in one hour from 8-9. Amazing; it's never happened in my 40 years up here. The creek looks completely different in many places. As with many such things, there is a silver lining. Our springs are flowing after years of not and my neighbor's well has 30 feet more water in it than before. The creek that was choked with invasive growth is cleaned out and open to the sun. And Refugio Beach has lots of new sand."

From the SB County Office of Emergency Communications:

Following winter weather warnings from the National Weather Service for Santa Barbara County, an evacuation warning has been issued from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff for areas burned in the Sherpa Fire (June 2016) including El Capitan Canyon, El Capitan Ranch, El Capitan State Beach, Refugio State Beach, Refugio Canyon, Canada Venadito Canyon, del Coral, and Las Flores Canyon (see enclosed map).   The warning is in place for Sunday, January 22 beginning at 4 a.m. 

An evacuation warning means there is a strong likelihood that there will be a risk to life and property, and residents in the warning area should take this time to prepare to leave quickly if given a mandatory evacuation order. Time should be taken to gather family members, pets, valuables, and important paperwork/documents. An individual or family should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. However, if anyone feels threatened, do not wait for an evacuation order – leave immediately. 

In addition, advisories issued today from the National Weather Service include a high wind warning in place through Monday, January 23, and a flash flood watch on Sunday, January 22 from the early morning until the afternoon for all areas of Santa Barbara County, not just the burn areas.

El Capitan and Refugio state parks are currently closed, as well as the northbound Hwy 101 off ramp at El Capitan.

The public is encouraged to avoid going out in the storm and to stay off the roads. As a precaution, do not walk through flood waters. It only takes six inches of moving water to knock you off your feet. If you are trapped by moving water, move to the highest possible point and call 911 for help. 

Do not drive into flooded roadways or around a barricade. Water may be deeper than it appears and can hide many hazards, such as sharp objects, washed out road surfaces, electrical wires, chemicals, etc. A vehicle caught in swiftly moving water can be swept away in a matter of seconds. Twelve inches of water can float a car or small SUV and 18 inches of water can carry away large vehicles. 

For updated information, visit www.countyofsb.org. Residents and visitors are strongly encouraged to sign up for “Aware and Prepare” alerts at www.awareandprepare.org.

The Santa Barbara County Emergency Operations Center has been activated as well as the Joint Information Center to provide county residents and visitors with updated information regarding flash flooding and debris flow hazards.

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