Wine Spectator: Devastating Mudslides Kill 21 in Santa Barbara County

By Jamie Slone
Jan 16, 2018
Wine Spectator: Devastating Mudslides Kill 21 in Santa Barbara County
Main highway to Los Angeles is closed, hurting sales for winery tasting rooms and restaurants. 

This story was updated on Jan. 22.

Just two weeks after the flames of the largest wildfire in California’s modern history subsided, bringing relief to Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, a new disaster has struck. More than 5 inches of heavy rain fell last week on the scorched hillsides above the Santa Barbara community of Montecito, sending a river of mud, trees, rocks and debris cascading down.

As of Jan. 22, at least 21 people are confirmed dead, with two others missing, and dozens of homes have been destroyed. Helicopters from the U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard as well as firefighters from Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties are continuing the search for anyone who may be trapped in the debris.

The historic San Ysidro Ranch, the world-famous resort and home of the Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning Stonehouse restaurant, has sustained heavy damage. According to local media reports, a gas line ruptured on the property during the mudslide, starting a fire that destroyed half the resort’s buildings. Several other buildings were buried in mud and debris. The resort staff evacuated the day before on the advice of state-issued mudslide warnings.

The Thomas fire burned for more than a week across the hills above Montecito, a wealthy community that is home to celebrities including Oprah Winfrey. After the flames were contained, state and local officials warned that hillsides denuded of vegetation could not contain or absorb heavy rainfall.

But few predicted the severity of the rains that began in the early hours of Jan. 9. A storm system dumped .54 inches in just five minutes, and 5 inches overall. Thousands of tons of mud and giant boulders poured down the hillside.

A week later, crews are working to clean up Highway 101, the main artery through the area. State officials had hoped to reopen it this week, but now say it will be closed for the foreseeable future.

Others are assessing damage in neighborhoods. A representative for the Montecito Inn says it will be closed while damage is assessed. The historic Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel, located where Montecito meets the Pacific, proved to be the end point for the debris flow. The Biltmore had closed its doors during the fires and had just reopened the day before the mudslides. “The safety and well-being of our guests and employees continues to be our top priority,” a representative told Wine Spectator. “As a result of recent flooding and mudslides, evacuations have been ordered across Southern California, including Santa Barbara County, and the resort will be closed until further notice."

The 29 wineries and tasting rooms that make up downtown Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail, less than two miles north of Montecito, suffered no apparent damage, but repercussions from the disaster can be felt throughout the area.

Read the full story here . . .

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