After Thomas Fire, Santa Barbara Braces for ‘Toxic Soup’

You know the drill. First come the fires. Then the rain. Then the mudslides.

Residential and commercial areas below hillsides charred by the Thomas fire are facing a new threat of potentially “catastrophic” flooding, if not from the first mild storm of 2018 that rolled in Wednesday then from future storms that could be more potent, according to reports from county officials.

But it’s not just water damage that the county has to worry about. Concerns are growing about what may be floating in the muck.

Any floodwaters that flow before fire cleanup is completed could also contain a “toxic soup” of hazardous wastes picked up by runoff through damaged and destroyed structures within the burned areas, officials said Wednesday.

County supervisors voted unanimously last month to ratify the declaration of a local health emergency. They plan to do so again Tuesday. As long as the declaration remains in place, hazardous material inspections will be required prior to the removal of any fire debris in both incorporated and unincorporated areas. This is one way to prevent the spread of toxic substances.

Flooding itself is still a major concern, particularly for areas below the burned watershed. The county has already identified the areas it thinks are most prone to catastrophic flooding. An interactive map available on the county’s website shows residents what kind of natural hazards they’re at risk of experiencing based on their location. Residents can also visit FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center to find out if they’re in a flood hazard area.

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