2018 Wildfires Increase Risk of Flooding


Flood After Fire News Conference Santa Barbara October 2018

Federal, state, and local officials gathered in Santa Barbara on Oct. 24 as part of Flood Preparedness Week in California. (DWR/2018)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) today urged Californians to be proactive and prepare for flooding before the winter storm season begins November 1. Landscapes charred by recent wildfires are particularly vulnerable to flash flooding and debris flows this winter.

Federal, state, and local officials gathered in Santa Barbara, where a deadly post-fire debris flow destroyed property and caused multiple deaths in January 2018. Throughout Flood Preparedness Week, DWR and its partners are sharing the latest information on the state’s flood management efforts and reminding Californians that climate change impacts, recent wildfires, and extreme weather events make it more important than ever for Californians to be flood ready.

“This year many communities are at greater risk of flooding because of wildfire damage,” warned Michael Sabbaghian, Chief of the California Department of Water Resources Flood Maintenance Office. “Wildfires burned more than 2,100 square miles in California this year, leaving behind charred hillsides that pose significant risk for flash flooding, mudflows, and debris flows as seen in Santa Barbara earlier this year.”

Floods after fire present greater risk to communities and homes downslope of burn areas because the ground cannot absorb the water. Instead, rain hits slick, charred hillsides and picks up ash, topsoil, and debris as it moves downhill. Flash flooding, mudflows, and debris flows happen quickly, so it is critical people and communities living downslope of a burn area are prepared. Visit our website for more information on mud and debris flows. 

More than 7 million California residents are at risk of flooding and many don’t realize it. Flooding can occur throughout the state, from rural communities to urban areas, at the base of hills and along the coast. In fact, every California county experienced a flood-related emergency in the past 20 years.

Californians are reminded to Be Flood Ready by following these steps:

  • Be aware of your risk – Know whether your home is downslope of a burn area. Pay attention to weather forecasts. Listen to local authorities.
  • Be prepared – Prepare an evacuation plan. Always have an emergency evacuation kit ready and be prepared to evacuate early. Have a plan for your pets, too. Tips are available at RedCross.org. 
  • Take action – Don’t wait to evacuate if flooding or a mud flow appears imminent. Don’t walk or drive through flood waters. Homeowners’ insurance does not cover damage due to flooding so consider purchasing flood insurance.


B-roll footage for media will be made available. DWR will post video footage of the event, to the same FTS link; please allow time for processing. Still photography can be found at DWR’s Pixel page. 


Contact: Chris Orrock, Public Information Officer
California Department of Water Resources
(916) 651-7012  | Chris.Orrock@water.ca.gov