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Thousands evacuated as first major rainstorm in a year hits Southern California

Thousands were evacuated in burn areas Monday as the first major rainstorm in nearly a year moved into Southern California, triggering stern warnings from authorities about flash flooding and debris flows.

The rain is of greatest concern in the mountains of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties burned in the massive Thomas fire, where officials said mudslides are possible.

“It does look like the heaviest rainfall amounts would be within or near the Thomas fire burn area,” said Robbie Munroe, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

By Monday night, showers had fallen throughout the region, but the main storm front was expected to move in early Tuesday, bringing heavy rain, damaging wind gusts and possible thunderstorms, the weather service said.

The slopes that provide such ample views of the California coastline are also forcing up moisture from the storm, further squeezing out heavy rain. The same topography is responsible for the dreaded “sundowner” winds that pushed flames downhill into homes last month.

On Monday afternoon, Los Angeles County issued evacuations in Kagel Canyon, Lopez Canyon and Little Tujunga Canyon, all of which were hit by fires in December. Officials in Duarte also ordered those who live in the Fish fire burn area to evacuate at 7 p.m. A shelter will open at 1600 Huntington Drive.

Evacuations were also ordered in Santa Barbara County neighborhoods that sit below areas recently burned by wildfires.

Residents who live in the following areas were told to evacuate by noon Monday: north of Highway 192, east of Cold Springs Road, and west of Highway 150/the county line, as well as along Tecolote Canyon, Eagle Canyon, Dos Pueblos Canyon, Gato Canyon and in the Whittier fire burn areas near Goleta.

A voluntary evacuation warning was issued for all areas south of Highway 192 to the ocean and east of Hot Springs Road/Olive Mill Road to Highway 150/county line, Santa Barbara County officials said. In Los Angeles County, Burbank officials issued a voluntary evacuation warning for residents who live in areas burned by the La Tuna fire.

“People in these areas should stay alert to changing conditions and be prepared to leave immediately at your own discretion if the situation worsens,” the county said in a statement.

Teri Lebow, 65, of Montecito, stayed with friends in Los Angeles for 12 days during the Thomas fire. Her San Ysidro Lane home suffered ash and smoke damage from the blaze.

On Monday, she was preparing to evacuate once again, but this time in heavy rain. “I feel like it’s insane,” she said.

“I’m just tired. I can’t seem to get my life kick-started,” Lebow said.

“I don’t have any hills behind my house,” Lebow said, so she’s not nervous about the mudslides doing damage to her home.

While her husband is traveling for work, Lebow had gardeners put sandbags around her home. She plans to head to a Four Seasons hotel.

The storm was initially forecast to produce up to 4 inches of rain over the south-facing mountains and foothills, but forecasters Monday increased those totals again.

Some communities — particularly within the Thomas fire burn area — could see up to 9 inches of rain between Monday and Tuesday, with rain dropping at a rate of up to 1½ inches an hour, Munroe said. Debris flows begin at about a third of that rate, he said.

The best chance for thunderstorms throughout the region will fall on Tuesday.

When a fire sweeps through an area, it not only burns the vegetation but damages the soil itself. The intense heat makes the soil unable to absorb water the way it normally would.

Downtown L.A. is expected to get about an inch of rain over a 12-hour period beginning at midnight Monday.

A major storm is also hitting Northern California. That is causing concerns about flooding in the wine country fire zone, where more than 10,000 homes were burned in October.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for the burned north Bay Area that begins Monday afternoon and lasts through Tuesday morning.

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