Survivors Featured in Montecito Debris Flow Documentary

Survivors Featured in Montecito Debris Flow Documentary title=
Survivors Featured in Montecito Debris Flow Documentary
Reads 7449

By Melinda Burns

One year ago today, 23 people died when an early morning deluge on the heels of the Thomas Fire pounded the charred slopes above Montecito, launching an ocean of mud and boulders into the sleeping community below.

A new 22-minute documentary, released by TV Santa Barbara on the first anniversary of the disaster, features four survivors on Montecito and San Ysidro creeks, where the catastrophic debris flow was most destructive. In order of appearance, they are Mark Karpeles, Lalo Barajas, Marco Farrell and Curtis Skene.

Montecito, January 9, 2018 from Hap Freund on Vimeo.


The documentary includes dramatic photos and video of the immediate aftermath of the flow by Mike Eliason of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Capt. Drue Holthe of the Montecito Fire Protection District and other local photographers. In all, 470 structures in Montecito were damaged or destroyed last Jan. 9. The documentary highlights newspaper headlines from the Santa Barbara Historical Museum archives, showing how debris flows and debris-laden floods have wreaked havoc in some of the same neighborhoods during the past 100 years.

The documentary was produced and directed by Melinda Burns, a Santa Barbara journalist, and Hap Freund, a former executive director of TVSB. The station supplied videographers and editors.

“We thought it was important to expand the historical record of this tragedy through video, drawing on the vivid accounts of survivors,” Burns said. “Their stories take on special urgency as the community girds for the extreme weather events that are sure to come again.”

Starting today, TVSB will air the video on the Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts program. Newsmakers is available online at  and on youtube at

Melinda Burns is a freelance journalist based in Santa Barbara

Login to add Comments


Show Comments
a-1547055186 Jan 09, 2019 09:33 AM
Survivors Featured in Montecito Debris Flow Documentary

Thank you for sharing. I had heard Lalo Barajas's description of Peter Fleurat's last words to him before, but Lalo's detailed re-accounting filled with emotion hit me on another level. I never saw Marco Farrell's footage before either; it just seems terrifying. There was so much in the documentary and descriptions that I never thought about - like the shaking and rumbling from the creek or the orange glow from the explosion and fire. January 9th, 2018 was a sad day for all of Santa Barbara County.

Flicka Jan 09, 2019 04:44 PM
Survivors Featured in Montecito Debris Flow Documentary

Thank you Melinda and Hap for making this documentary. The late Montecito History Committee Curator Maria Herold was convinced many community problems could be traced to ignorance of history and her goal was to educate. This video will do that. No one alive today will ever forget, but in 100 years this will be especially valuable. Anyone knowing about the 1969 flood would have known what properties would have been especially vulnerable this time, some of the same were hit or destroyed. I had tears listening to Lalo describe his partner Peter and how the impact hit them. RIP Peter.

Please Login or Register to comment on this.