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Montecito Mudslides: 6th year anniversary

MONTECITO, Calif. — The 2018 Montecito Mudslides, also known as the Montecito debris flow, will mark its 6th year anniversary on Tuesday.

On the tragic day, 23 lives were lost and dozens more were injured. A body reportedly located by the UCSB Anthropologists were believed to be the remains of 17-year-old Jack Cantin, but the case remains under investigation by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office.

Residents in Montecito on January 9th, 2018 were hit with flooded roads, toppled trees, large boulders and raging streams going 15 miles per hour. The mudslides damaged hundreds of structures, destroying around 65 homes. Cars were washed into the debris flow and could be seen crumpled up like paper.

The coastal town of Santa Barbara County would inherit problems consequentially from the 2017 Thomas Fire that ravaged Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, burning more than 281,000 acres. The wildfire stripped the counties burn-scarred Santa Ynez Mountains, leaving it vulnerable to an avalanche of mud.

As a result, the mudslides would become one of the most devastating catastrophes in Santa Barbara County in over 1,000 years, according to UCSB Anthropologists.

The mudslides would also mark a similar debris flow event near Carpinteria that happened five years after the Coyote wildfire, known as the 1969 Debris-Laden Flood, reported by the United States Geological Survey.

According to the Los Angeles Times, their investigation into the 2018 mudslides found previous warnings were ignored by Santa Barbara County officials and failed to build bigger basins in order to prevent the cataclysmic weather event.

Six years later, Montecito and its community have learned to cope with the unpredictability of the weather, including last year as winter storms hit the coastal Tri-Counties and brought record rainfall to nearly extinct lakes, waterfalls and river streams.

Residents were told to evacuate — once again — on the 5th year anniversary of the tragic events, but rejoiced when they were able to return to their homes a day later.

In November 2023, ring nets used to catch debris during rainstorms — installed by The Project for Resilient Communities in 2019 after the deadly mudslides — were removed via helicopter. The specialized nets had been placed in the Montecito creeks of San Ysidro, Buena Vista, and Cold Springs Canyons.

The removal of the ring nets came after TPRC and Santa Barbara county officials were unable to come to an agreement about funding the safety net project before its permit expired in December.

TPRC executive director Pat McElroy says, the nets were placed in storage.

County officials are reportedly planning to begin construction of a basin in Montecito that is scheduled to begin in the coming years.

The Montecito Fire Protection District are planning to hold their annual commemorative "Raising Our Light" ceremony on Tuesday, January 9 at 6 p.m. at the Montecito Union School located on 385 San Ysidro Road — open to the public.

In remembrance to the lives lost, the ceremony put together by the Montecito Community Partnership Team will also be collaborating with: the Montecito Association, Montecito Journal, Montecito Union School District, Cold Spring School District, Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade and the SB County Department of Behavioral Wellness.

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County
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Bryan Hernandez

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