Debris Flow Danger Causes Evacuations in Santa Cruz County

Written by Lucas Murawsky (News Writer)

When wildfire tears through an area like Santa Cruz County it leaves behind the danger for debris flow, and that danger came to life when an atmospheric river was forecasted to dump upwards to 10 inches of rain on the CZU lighting complex fire burn scar, well-exceeding debris flow thresholds, and forcing many evacuations including many students and teachers of the San Lorenzo Valley schools.

Officials were concerned about debris flow, which occurs when water flows downhill through burned areas carrying with it burned trees, rocks, silt, and other debris. Debris flow can cause more injuries than the previous wildfire itself.

Two days before the storm Sunday, January 24 evacuation warnings were issued letting people in the danger zone know that evacuation orders may be issued and debris flow risk is high. One day before the storm, January 25 evacuation orders were issued telling people to get out of the area immediately. 

With all the evacuations for debris flow and the potential for power outages,  all SLV Schools were canceled. I spoke with math teacher Mrs. Runneals from the San Lorenzo Valley High School, who was in an evacuation order zone. “I knew that evacuations were going to happen this rainy season, but it was still really stressful to get the evacuation notice. My husband and I had already planned to stay, so before we even got the warning we stocked up on food, water, and gas for the generator. We also packed evacuation bags just in case we changed our minds. It was really nerve-wracking.” She said. “We made the decision to stay because we weren’t in the direct path of a debris flow. The danger came from the fact that if one happened, we’d have no way to get into town, especially because a lot of backroads are still closed due to the fire. Most of our neighborhood evacuated because of this, but we prepared as best we could for prolonged isolation and power outages.”

“Many people were very relieved to wake up the next morning, hearing that evacuation orders had been reduced to warnings and that a debris flow didn’t happen. “I was shocked that a debris flow didn’t happen. I remember hearing the rain dumping on the roof of our house in the middle of the night, and I just kept thinking that one had probably already happened somewhere. I was also really relieved when I found out that one didn’t happen, I didn’t want any more community members to lose their houses.” Mrs. Runneals said.

Though we did not have a debris flow “We’re not all the way through the rainy season,” said Chief Deputy Chris Clark of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. “Frankly, we got lucky, I’m extremely happy that nothing happened.” 

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