Another mudslide victim confirmed Friday, Highway 101 reopening is pushed back indefinitely

SBFLM Staff Report

Another casualty of the mudslide has been found by search and rescue crews, as they located 87-year-old Joseph Francis Bleckel in his home earlier today, said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.

Search and Rescue from Fresno California search a street of houses that where destroyed in the massive mudslide in Montecito. Photo by Daniel Dreifuss

“We have continued sadness for all the families that have lost a love one and we want to thank the people of Montecito and Carpinteria that have had such an impact in this area,” Brown said.

The mudslide incident was a result of the Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire in California history, and has now claimed the lives of 17 Montecito residents that age in range from 3-years-old to elderly. See the list of names here.

There are more than 1,250 personnel in the area with 114 engine companies, 29 K-9 units, 11 hand crews and using the Bearcat armored vehicles to get to places unreachable by other vehicles, officials said.

A total of 28 patients have been treated and released or admitted to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospitals from storm-related injuries, according to hospital officials. At this time, Friday, January 12, a total of 11 patients remain and of the four patients who were in critical condition on Tuesday, three have improved to serious condition and one remains in critical condition.

Highway 101 was originally estimated to have a reopening date for next Monday, Jan. 15, however officials at Caltrans sent out a news release that the date will have to be pushed back to an unknown date. Caltrans has opened a segment of the southbound lanes of US 101 south of Summerland at Padaro Lane to assist with traffic management and emergency vehicle access during this crisis.

”This is the department’s highest priority and we are working in close coordination with incident command to get the job done as safely and quickly as possible,” said Sara von Schwind, Caltrans 5 Deputy District Director of Maintenance and Operations.

A monstrous amount of debris and mud have covered both lanes of Highway 101 in the Montecito area, and forced the closure of one of California’s main freeway systems from Milpas to the north to the county line to the south.

“More equipment is arriving by the hour and opening up debris basins. We will improve conditions in the area,” said Tom Fayram, director of Santa Barbara County Public Works.

Travelers have been directed to Interstate 5 from Highway 126 to Highway 166 or Highway 46 in the north. Highway 166 has already had several major accidents from the congestion and motorists are advised to use Highway 46.

“The problem is we have more water still coming down and it looks deeper than the first day. As soon as we can come up with the solution to stop the water and get the highway cleaned up and open we will. Our concern is the next storm at the end of next week,” said Cindy Ponce, of the California Highway Patrol.

The Pacific Surfliner is available for transportation between Ventura and Santa Barbara. Surfliner trains run five round trips per day through the affected area. Trains will likely be busy due to the US 101 closure and more information can be found at, @PacSurfliners on Twitter or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL (872-7245).

Island Packers and Condor Express are also offering daily ferries from Ventura Harbor to Santa Barbara Harbor during the Highway 101 closure. More information can be found at or

All beaches south of Gaviota to the Santa Barbara County line are off limits to those who want to go in the ocean as the levels of bacteria exceed public health standards. Officials also warned not to touch anything on the beach as it could be toxic.

Fayram added that crews are dumping debris at various locations such as Goleta Beach, Ash Avenue in Carpinteria, county landfills and outside the county.

“We have permits from from the Army Corps of Engineers, and it has to be moved as we have little time to get this done,” Fayram said.


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