This year’s California wildfires resulted in damage from more than just fire. In January, heavy rains triggered large debris flows in the Montecito area, resulting in 18 deaths and over 100 homes destroyed. Researchers from the SWCSC, emergency managers, fire departments, and others participated in a workshop February 23 in Montecito, Calif. to further understanding of post-fire debris flows. Nina Oakley, a PhD student working with SWCSC researcher Dr. Tamara Wall, participated in the workshop.
Oakley said that, while the rainfall was unusual, it was not unprecedented. Her presentation discussed “research documenting the atmospheric conditions associated with historic post-fire debris flows in the Transverse Ranges, and how the characteristics of historic events were similar to the recent event,” said Oakley.
“Stakeholders were interested in understanding the likelihood of the combined occurrence of these extreme fire and flood events,” she said. News stations, public works employees, National Weather Service personnel, and other researchers from the area also attended the event.
The tragic loss of life may have been preventable, as many residents did not heed warnings to evacuate. “It is possible that many residents did not evacuate as they did not know what a debris flow was and its potential for major destruction,” said Oakley. She said that focus on public education and outreach may prevent similar tragedies in the future.