SANTA BARBARA — Firefighters were able to rescue a 14-year-old girl — who was covered head-to-toe in mud — after clearing away fallen branches and debris from her ruined house.
Others were not so lucky.
As of Thursday morning, 17 people are confirmed dead, while others are still missing.
San Jose State University associate professor and department chair of civil and environmental engineering, Laura Sullivan-Green — says that the mudslides were caused by the recent wildfires that destroyed vegetation in the Santa Barbara County area.
“The vegetation normally absorbs some of the rainfall and it’s not there to do that. And the root systems act as reinforcing for the soil,” she says.
The fires also created a chemical change in the soil making it water repellent.
“It means the water cannot absorb into the soil, so all it does is run off and it carries the soil with it.”
Despite some warnings of evacuations — the damage was greater according to Professor Sullivan-Green — because of the small amount of time between the wildfires fires and the storm.
“Unfortunately because the fires were so recent, there was very little time to implement preventative measures to improve drainage in the area as well as prevent soil erosion.”
Meanwhile — Northern California residents affected by the Napa and Santa Rosa fires are also concerned of possible mudslides.
“Time is on our side in those areas, because they have been work to replenish some vegetation and do some sandbagging and putting berms in that help prevent or reduce the soil erosion in the areas.”
Professor Sullivan-Green urges that above all people should adhere to any calls for evacuation.