Officials working to convince area residents of debris flow risks

Marianne Ratcliff, Ojai Valley News correspondent
Firefighters, hydrologists and Ojai Police Chief James Fryhoff spoke at three town-hall meetings in Oak View Feb. 17 and all emphasized the threat of mudflows and flash floods posed by the Thomas Fire is far greater than anyone in modern California history has faced.
With nearly 282,000 acres burned in the Thomas Fire, rain of half an inch an hour or more will have devastating effects, they said and warned this is a risk those living in the burn area will have to contend with for five years or more.
As of Wednesday, the National Weather Service was predicting the Ojai area could receive rain amounts exceeding a half inch per hour during a storm that will move through the area from Thursday night through Saturday.
Because areas of Ventura County vary depending on geology, slope and other factors, the county has been divided into 10 evacuation zones. The zones for the Ojai Valley area are zone six – Upper Ojai Area / Thomas Aquinas, zone seven – Casitas Springs/Foster Park/Canada Larga, zone eight – east of Hwy. 33 /Creek Road, zone nine – Matilija Canyon/Lake Casitas/Hwy. 150 and zone 10 – Ojai/Oak View/Mira Monte/ Meiners Oaks
Trevor Quirk, an attorney who lives in Upper Ojai, has helped lead disaster-response and relief efforts in that area and is organizing a volunteer disaster-response crew. He spent days helping fight fires during the Thomas Fire and assisting in the search for survivors after the deadly Montecito mudslide Jan. 9.
“I hope people heed their advice and warnings,” Quirk said. “Knowing people in Upper Ojai, I think it is unlikely people will do that. I told one man I know, ‘If you stick around the next time a storm hits, I’m personally driving to your house and getting you out.’ The possibility for large-scale devastation up here is very real. The problem with a mudslide is that it doesn’t give a warning. You can’t smell it, you can’t see a plume and there’s very little time to get out of there.”

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