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© Michael Owen Baker / For The Times
MONTECITO, CA - JANUARY 14, 2017: A Montecito freeway sign sits in mud on Highway 101. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Santa Barbara authorities on edge with light rain expected across Southern California

(PhatzNewsRoom / LA Times)   —-    Still recovering from January’s deadly mudslides, Santa Barbara County authorities are monitoring a storm system that is expected to dump light rain beginning Monday over the barren hills charred by last year’s Thomas Fire.

Only about half an inch of rain is expected to fall between Monday and Wednesday, nothing like the heavy rainfall that triggered the massive and deadly debris flows in Montecito last month, according to the National Weather Service.

Still, rainfall amounts could vary with the potential for brief bursts of more intense showers, said weather service meteorologist Kathy Hoxsie.

Santa Barbara County officials are asking people who live in the debris flow areas to sign up online to receive emergency alerts in case heavier showers develop. Public evacuations are not anticipated, county officials send Sunday.

“The difficulty when you have a burn area is that any amount of rain always makes you nervous,” Hoxsie said. “We are not expecting much but it is still nerve-racking.”

The rain is expected to be the heaviest Monday afternoon into Tuesday morning, she said.

County officials last week told people living in the debris flow path to remain vigilant and pay close attention to county alerts. The county has put an interactive map online showing what areas are in high or extreme risk of damage from a debris flow.

Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management Director Rob Lewin said last week that the public should not be “fooled” into thinking that the mountains and burned watersheds have been flushed of the massive boulders, rocks and other debris that could come raging down in a rain storm.

“The mountains and the canyons are still loaded with rocks, sediment and other debris,” he said last week when county officials announced new evacuation terminology.

Santa Barbara County sheriff’s officials said last week they will no longer use “voluntary” in their evacuation alerts after concerns that the warnings they pushed out before devastating mudslides ravaged Montecito last month were ineffective in getting people to leave.

Many residents in neighborhoods under voluntary evacuation warnings decided to stay. Some assumed the threat was overblown just weeks after the Thomas fire triggered similar calls to evacuate.

The Jan. 9 mudslides in Montecito left more than 20 people dead and destroyed dozens of homes. Scientists who surveyed the area days after the slide said that a predicted rainstorm’s unexpected ferocity combined with the community’s unusual geological makeup to maximize the devastation.

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