Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in Montecito and other burn areas in Santa Barbara County on Thursday amid fears that an approaching winter storm could bring more dangerous and destructive mudslides in the region.
The evacuation order, issued by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office, impacts residents near the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier fire burn areas and went into effect at noon. It includes the coastal communities of Montecito, Santa Barbara, Goleta, Summerland and Carpinteria.
“We are issuing this mandatory evacuation order because there is a risk to life and property, and a risk of a disruption of critical services," Sheriff Bill Brown said at a late Thursday morning news conference.
Residents ordered to evacuate their homes have until 6 p.m. to do so, but Brown urged people to start the evacuation process as soon as possible.
“We want everyone to be out of the area and out of harm’s way by nightfall," he said.
Authorities decided to issue the order amid National Weather Service forecasts calling for a 1/2 inch of rain per hour to drench the region starting late Thursday, with "extreme impact" expected in the area between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. Friday.
Sheriff's officials are concerned the storm could trigger dangerous-flash flooding, and mud and debris flows in an area already devastated by mudslides that killed at least 21 people and destroyed or damaged many homes in the community in early January.
Brown described the impending storm as "challenging," but noted it isn't expected to be as powerful as the one that wreaked havoc in the region on Jan. 9.
Still, the Sheriff's Office detailed a number of possible impacts from the storm that could be catastrophic.
"Waterway flows may be rapid and blockage and overtopping in waterways is expected. Roads may be flooded and impassable. People close to and immediately downstream of choke points may be endangered," a news release from the Sheriff's Office read. "It is important that community members understand the seriousness of the situation and follow the direction of authorities."
Emergency personnel started going door-to-door around noon in an effort to notify residents in person about the evacuation, but the sheriff indicated that because of the number of homes impacted, they wouldn't be able to alert everyone.
About 30,000 people are affected by the mandatory order, he said.
An evacuation center has been established by the Red Cross at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, located at 3400 Calle Real in Santa Barbara. Evacuated residents are allowed to bring large animals to the location.
Those who need assistance evacuating animals both large and small should contact the Santa Barbara County Animal Services hotline at 805-681-4332.
The latest information on evacuations and road closures can be found at ReadySBC.org.
KTLA's Shaquille Woods contributed to this story.