ABSTRACT

The post–Thomas Fire debris flows of 9 January 2018 killed 23 people, damaged 558 structures, and caused severe damage to infrastructure in Montecito and Carpinteria, CA. U.S. Highway 101 was closed for 13 days, significantly impacting transportation and commerce in the region. A narrow cold frontal rain band generated extreme rainfall rates within the western burn area, triggering runoff-driven debris flows that inundated 5.6 km2 of coastal land in eastern Santa Barbara County. Collectively, this series of debris flows is comparable in magnitude to the largest documented post-fire debris flows in the state and cost over a billion dollars in debris removal and damages to homes and infrastructure. This study summarizes observations and analyses on the extent and magnitude of inundation areas, debris-flow velocity and volume, and sources of debris-flow material on the south flank of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Additionally, we describe the atmospheric conditions that generated intense rainfall and use precipitation data to compare debris-flow source areas with spatially associated peak 15 minute rainfall amounts. We then couple the physical characterization of the event with a compilation of debris-flow damages to summarize economic impacts.

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