Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for areas in California's Santa Barbara County that were torched by a devastating wildfire last month, ahead of an approaching storm.
The National Weather Service issued flash flood watches in the Thomas, Whitier, Creek and LaTuna burn areas of Southern California from Monday night through Tuesday. Four to 7 inches of rain is forecast in the foothills and mountains, with up to 9 inches forecast in isolated areas, meteorologists said.
Officials are especially fearful that the strong winter storm could lead to flash flooding and mudslides in areas that have already been compromised by wildfire.
"Flash floods, mud and debris flows can happen with little or no warning. It is important that you understand the seriousness of the situation and follow the direction of authorities," read a statement from Santa Barbara County Sunday night.
The evacuation areas have been burned by the Thomas Fire, the largest in California's history -- which has burned more than 281,000 acres since Dec. 4, according to Cal Fire.
The wildfire has been nearly extinguished, but the areas are susceptible to mudslides because the flames have burned away some of the vegetation, The Weather Channel reported.
Residents were ordered to leave by noon Monday in unincorporated parts of Santa Barbara County, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria. Residents along Tecolote Canyon, Eagle Canyon, Dos Pueblos Canyon, Gato Canyon, and the Whittier burn areas were also ordered to leave.
Voluntary evacuations were issued in other areas.
"People in these areas should stay alert to changing conditions and be prepared to leave immediately at your own discretion if the situation worsens," the county said in a statement.
An evacuation center has been set up for displaced residents.
"Do not delay in taking action to protect you, your family, your animals and your property," the county added. "If you fail to take action and decide to stay in these areas, you could be stranded with no way for rescuers to reach you if you need help."