At a District board meeting on January 22, the Montecito Fire Protection District Board of Directors was briefed on the mudslide situation by division chief of operations, Kevin Taylor. As of Monday, the recovery operations for the incident was transitioned to the County’s Emergency Operations Center, with Montecito Fire having an advisory role in the clean-up effort. Taylor, along with Battalion chief Travis Ederer and Wildland Fire specialist Maeve Juarez, are working closely with the County to choreograph the recovery efforts, as two people – 2-year-old Lydia Sutthithepa and 17-year-old Jack Cantin – remain missing as of press time.
“Finding them is our first priority, followed by the safe repopulation of Montecito,” Chief Taylor said, adding that Ederer and Juarez have a unique knowledge of Montecito’s topography and continue to help facilitate the clearing of streets, restoration of utilities, and recovery efforts. “There are a lot of moving pieces,” he said.
Chief Taylor told the board that his close-knit group of firefighters, with the help of firefighters from Santa Barbara County and City, conducted hundreds of “surface rescues” on the morning of January 9, following the mudslides that took place around 3:40 am. “I’m proud of everyone in this organization for the heroic efforts that occurred and continue to occur,” Chief Taylor reported.
Moving forward, MFPD reps will take part in a community advisory group being developed by the County’s Office of Emergency Management to address the complicated task of rebuilding damaged and destroyed homes. District reps are also taking part in the development of new evacuation plans with the County, to be used in future weather events. Those proposals, which are being formulated with scientists, geologists, and engineers, could take up to nine months to devise, and will take into account the change of topography that occurred from the recent mudslides.
“We’re working on a new interactive map below the burn areas and identifying the actions that people should take during future storms,” said Office of Emergency Management director Rob Lewin at a community meeting on January 22. “We each get to choose if we are a victim or a survivor,” he said, explaining that residents should take greater precautions during this winter’s rains.
Also at the MFPD board meeting: director Abe Powell was voted in as president of the board for 2018, with Sylvia Easton chosen as vice president, and Michael Lee as secretary. Director Powell was credited with keeping hundreds of residents informed during both the Thomas Fire and the Montecito mudslides, via regular social media posts and emails. Powell, who helped residents fill sandbags in the days prior to the storm, was vocal about the seriousness of the storm and urged residents to follow evacuation orders.
“I feel well-prepared to lead this board during this time of recovery,” Powell said.