California Mudslide Victims ID’d as Crews Continue Survivor Search

The oldest victim swept away in a California mudslide was Jim Mitchell, who had celebrated his 89th birthday the day before. He died with his wife of more than 50 years, Alice.

The youngest, 3-year-old Kailly Benitez, was one of four children killed.

As their names and those of 14 other victims were released Thursday, crews kept digging through the muck and rubble looking for more people.

The number of reported deaths from the mudslide has reached 17.

“At this moment, we are still looking for live victims,” Santa Barbara fire Capt. Gary Pitney said. But he confessed: “The likelihood is increasing that we’ll be finding bodies, not survivors. You have to start accepting the reality of that.”

At least 13 Dead as Heavy Rains Trigger Flooding, Mudflows and Freeway Closures Across Southern California

(TNS) - At least 13 people were killed Tuesday when a rainstorm sent mud and debris coursing through Montecito neighborhoods and left rescue crews to scramble through clogged roadways and downed trees to search for victims.

The deluge that washed over Santa Barbara County early Tuesday was devastating for a community that was ravaged by the Thomas fire only a few weeks earlier. In just a matter of minutes, pounding rain overwhelmed the south-facing slopes above Montecito and flooded a creek that leads to the ocean, sending mud and massive boulders rolling into residential neighborhoods, according to Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason.

At least 25 other people were injured, authorities said at an afternoon press conference. Crews rescued 50 people by air and dozens more from the ground.

Rains Finally Arrive, Bringing New Danger in California's Vast Fire Zones

REPORTING FROM MONTECITO, Calif. — In the mountains above coastal Santa Barbara County, the vegetation is typically so deep and lush that it can soak up a half-inch of rainwater before it flows downhill.

But that was before the Thomas fire swept through in December, burning those trees and brush to the ground. Now, the rain has no buffer, and that is cause for alarm.

"It hits the dirt directly and it is instant runoff and carries that sediment," Thomas D. Fayram, the deputy public works director for the county, told concerned residents at a community meeting several weeks ago.

Southern California is about to get its first significant rainstorm in nearly a year this week, with more than 4 inches of rain expected in burn areas.

Wine Country Fires Prompt New Alert Legislation

(TNS) — North Bay lawmakers have introduced a bill to bolster the ability of emergency officials to contact residents who may be in harm’s way — a topic that has been scrutinized since last year’s devastating wildfires.

The legislation, introduced by multiple lawmakers, including state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, would create uniform statewide emergency notification protocols. It also would require all counties to develop and adopt guidelines for using Wireless Emergency Alerts, a federally administered system that can send Amber Alert-style messages to cell phones in a disaster area.

As The Chronicle and others have reported, many North Bay residents said they received no official warning and were blindsided by the rapidly spreading flames that sparked in multiple counties in October.

Mapping the Post-Wildfire Landslide Risk in California’s Burn Zones

California’s rainy season last year may have replenished reservoirs in most parts of the state after a long, crippling drought, but the precipitation largely bypassed an area northwest of Los Angeles, in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Santa Barbara is now in its seventh year of drought and there are worries that similar conditions will return elsewhere in the Golden State.

Under these difficult circumstances, incoming rain—like the heavy precipitation that’s expected this week in parts of Southern California—would be welcomed as good news. But that’s not necessarily the case in the areas impacted by recent wildfires, including Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, where upwards of 4 inches of rains is predicted through Tuesday evening in some spots.

Trump's Homeland Security Chief Pledges Help With North Bay Fire Recovery

(TNS) - U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen became the first Cabinet-level official in the Trump administration to tour Northern California’s wildfire devastation, saying Wednesday that the White House would fully back recovery efforts.

Nielsen’s visit to Santa Rosa didn’t come with any new financial commitments, but it marked a show of support for California as the state muscles for a share of billions of dollars in federal aid being earmarked for states and U.S. territories devastated by hurricanes and other disasters in 2017.

FEMA OKs Disaster Declaration for California

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has made federal disaster assistance available to California to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by wildfires from Dec. 4, 2017 and continuing.

Federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work due to wildfires in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, according to FEMA.

Impacts, Lessons from Oroville Spillway Crisis

(TNS) — The Lake Oroville spillway crisis and evacuation last February might have only lasted a few days for Yuba-Sutter residents, but the ordeal left many with unanswered questions and a newfound fear of the unknowns of living downstream from an aging water storage facility and system.

Questions about who is to blame for the spillway's failure, how it happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again continue to resonate with local residents close to a year after the event occurred.

The Appeal-Democrat reached out to community members and officials about the incident to gauge how they were impacted by the event, what the most significant takeaway was for them and what they would like to see changed moving forward.

How California and Western States Should Shift Their Fire Prevention Strategy

(TNS) - When the phone rang at 4:50 a.m. Thursday, I woke up on high alert. No one calls that early with good news.

When I saw the caller ID said “CSUN Emergency,” my heart started racing. My youngest son, Cameron, attends California State University-Northridge. High alert shifted to dread.

It turned out the call was just to inform us that CSUN was canceling classes that day due to poor air quality and transportation issues stemming from the massive Southern California wildfires. What a relief. But there was no chance I would go back to sleep without finding out how close the fires were to CSUN’s dorms and what the strategy was for putting the fires out.


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