Parts of Southern California face mandatory evacuation amid incoming storm

A mandatory evacuation order was issued Thursday for some fire burned portions of Southern California in anticipation of an upcoming storm with possible flooding and debris flow, officials said.

Between 25,000 and 30,000 people in south coast communities of Santa Barbara County will be affected by the order, Sheriff Bill Brown said. Individuals near the charred areas of the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier fires were told to leave the area by 6 p.m., a news release said. The area includes Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria.

A winter storm is expected to descend on the area late Thursday, the National Weather Service (NWS) said, with a possibility of peak rain totals in some parts reaching up to a half inch per hour through Friday,  “especially in the foothills and coastal slopes.”

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The NWS enacted a flash flood watch for the Thomas and Whittier burn areas for Thursday night into Friday, as well as the Creek and La Tuna burn areas.

The decision to evacuate was made “out of an abundance of caution,” the news release said. And considering the devastating mudslides in January, which killed 21 people, “we cannot take any unnecessary chances,” the sheriff said.

“We know that evacuations are incredibly inconvenient and stressful," Brown said. We know that they are a burden financially for businesses and that they are disruptive to schools. The list goes on and on. But they are necessary.”

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Brown said that people in the area will not be forced out of their homes but added that evacuations were “something that has to become part of the new normal for the southern part of Santa Barbara County.”

Highway 101 will remain open to facilitate the evacuation process, the sheriff said. California Highway Patrol will re-evaluate the situation later and should the route need to be closed, it would be done “just prior to the arrival of the intense portion of the storm,” the news release said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.