Big Problems Call for Big Solutions

By Sharon Byrne   |   May 13, 2021

High fire season in Santa Barbara County started on May 3, with California coming off a record-setting year. According to the Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council (SBCFSC), a total of 9,639 fires burned some 4.4 million acres of land, making 2020 the largest wildfire season recorded in the state’s modern history. The 2021 fire season is particularly concerning because the county has received 50 percent of its normal rainfall, making drought-stressed vegetation more susceptible to burning.

With the help of generous donations from Pacific Gas & Electric and the Santa Barbara Foundation, SBCFSC recently created an instructional video to help residents prepare their properties to mitigate the negative impacts of wildfires. You can find the video as well as other helpful resources at our newly updated webpage:

Ground-breaking Begins on the Randall Road Debris Basin 

Editor’s note: Curtis Skene aided in the following report

The Randall Road Debris Basin is the biggest public works attempted by the county in 15-20 years. Roughly 390,000 cubic yards of material came down San Ysidro Creek in the 2018 Debris Flow, according to the U.S. Geological Services. Roughly 150,000 of that was rock and debris. 

About 300,000 cubic yards came down Montecito Creek. Randall Road is a big deal and will make a real difference, according to Curtis Skene. Flood Control is going to dig out 100,000 cubic yards for Randall Road, and when complete, it will be the third-largest debris basin in the county. 

“It was a big team effort, all the way to Sacramento and D.C. Everyone there felt like this is a big win, something really good for the community. There’s a huge sense of gratitude for everyone that stepped up to do something to make this happen.” 

Congressman Salud Carbajal and our former State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson were present at the groundbreaking. 

Curtis and Tom Fayram had been to see Jackson in her office three times, clarifying whether or not they were on a list for FEMA, national, state or regional. She got Toby Halverson on the phone, who is now with Cal Fire. He called Cal FEMA and helped move it across the finish line. 

Curtis had the vision for the debris basin some three years ago, after his childhood home was hit for the second time in a debris flow. He evacuated his 104-year-old mother the day before January 9, and she passed away peacefully a few days later. 

The first time the house washed out was in 1969, after the 1964 Coyote Fire. Curtis was in boarding school at the time, which he tried to leave and take 10 friends to go home and sandbag the house. The headmaster denied permission, of course. A day later, permission was granted, as it was a Friday. Curtis and the 10 friends sandbagged the entire north-facing part of the home to about four feet. They heard the storm coming. When the debris flow hit, they thought it was going to go up over the sandbags. It almost did but stopped just short. The whole garden was wiped out, but the house was saved. 

Vicki Riskin’s house, gone in the 2018 Debris Flow, saw mudflow to the eaves of the house in 1969. For comparison, Curtis noted the Thomas debris flow was well up over 14 feet on Randall Road. 

With that, we’re reminded that Montecito’s geological clock indicates we’re not out of the woods for big debris flows. The 1969 flow that Curtis lived through and defended his home against happened five years after the Coyote Fire that took out the old Hot Springs Hotel. You can still see the base of the foundation of the old hotel on the Hot Springs Trail. Curtis is functioning as a bit of Montecito’s living historian, having lived through both of these debris flows. 

We’re still vulnerable, heading into drought, to both fire and debris flow, as a community. That raises concerns about our local office of emergency management. I’ve listened to concerns from community members about the lack of key warnings in the past two years, and I’ve subsequently shared those concerns. Our terrific MFPD stays on top of weather forecasts, warnings, and environmental dangers. 

We just hope county’s OEM is staying on top of things as closely.

101 Preview at Our Board Meeting May 11 at 4 pm

The 101 team will be bringing the preliminary designs for the Montecito segment to our board meeting Tuesday. This will be the first sneak peek for us to weigh in and focus on architectural details, guardrails, fencing, and bridges, so don’t miss it! See our website for details on how to attend via Zoom.


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