January 31, 2018
Due to recent mudslides, as well as the spread of the Thomas wildfire to the Santa Barbara County, University of California at Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang postponed student finals from Dec. 10 to the start of the Winter Quarter on Jan. 8. The extension of finals into the winter quarter was caused by concerns over power outages, low air quality in the area and the 101 closure.
The mudslides, which have resulted in 20 fatalities and three missing people, were indirectly caused by the Thomas wildfire burning the soil surrounding the Montecito community area, making the region more susceptible to landslides.
In an address to the UCSB campus community, Yang outlined the modified school year schedule, letting students know that the campus shall remain open throughout the duration of break despite the conditions in the area.
“Due to these extraordinary circumstances, final exams scheduled for the coming week will be rescheduled for the week of January 8,” Yang wrote in a note to the student body. “We are encouraging all students who wish to leave campus to do so.”
After two fatalities and two non-fatal injuries, the Thomas fire was as 100 percent contained on Jan. 12, as announced by the Forest Service. Although the fire itself was contained, the aftermath of smoke, debris and wind shifts have caused the closing of dozens of schools within the Ventura County and southern Santa Barbara County area.
“[The school administration] sent out a university-wide email warning of the dangers, and postponing some finals again since people couldn’t make it back up to UCSB, since the 101 [freeway] was closed,” Oak Park High School alumna and UCSB freshman Melissa Liu said. “However, handling of the mudslides was left up to the professor’s discretion based on student concerns.”
Though the road closures and power outages in the region caused by the mudslides have impeded several day-to-day operations of the Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, schools have remained open due to mudslides being largely contained within the Montecito area.
“The school definitely didn’t respond to the mudslides like they did the fires, probably because the mud wasn’t a direct threat to the campus,” OPHS alumna and UCSB sophomore Lily Apar wrote to the Talon. “The chancellor sent emails and notified professors to be lenient if students couldn’t get back for finals.”
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office is working together with local firefighters and other emergency responders in order to find those people still missing because of the mudslides. Sheriff-Coroner Bill Brown stated in a news conference Jan. 21 that of the 21 casualties from the mudslides, six were in voluntary evacuation zones, 11 were along the border of the mandatory-voluntary evacuation area and four were in mandatory evacuation zones.
“It’s very possible that they could be underneath a significant amount of mud that is drying and ultimately has to be removed,” Brown said to reporters. “And it is still also very possible that they (one or more of them) could have been swept out to sea.”
Several members of the Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have already been affected by the mudslides, either directly or indirectly. As a result of the environmental risks, roads – including portions of the U.S. 101 Freeway that run adjacent to Montecito – are closed or shut down temporarily, and some citizens were displaced from their homes due to severe conditions. According to Deputy Administrative Services Director for the City of Santa Barbara Tracy Banks, SBSO is continuing its efforts to find every remaining missing person in the region and return them to their families.
“The mudslides [and fire] are proving to still be a significant issue as the flow of debris in Montecito is affecting the larger county area, resulting in the closing of several of our schools,” Banks wrote to the Talon. “We are doing the best we can to remedy the situation, but as it stands right now, several residents in our region have been adversely affected by these mudslides, and our sheriff’s department are doing what they can to find those still missing.”