El Capitan Canyon cabins wash away in Santa Barbara County flooding


El Capitan Canyon cabins and vehicles are damaged by heavy flooding Friday morning.
El Capitan Canyon cabins and vehicles are damaged by heavy flooding Friday morning. Noozhawk.com

Major flooding below the Sherpa Fire burn area caused several cabins and more than a dozen vehicles to wash away Friday at the El Capitan Canyon camping resort, leading to a massive rescue effort in the area.

Two people were rescued early on in the incident, including a woman from a van trapped in the debris flow and a person from one of the cabins that washed down a creek in Santa Barbara County.

An additional 22 people were brought to safety at midday from the upper part of the canyon after being trapped by high water and debris flows, according to Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

Rescuers used a tracked vehicle to traverse the water and debris and ferry people to safety.

No injuries were reported among those caught up in the flooding or among rescue personnel, Zaniboni said.

The private park is on the north side of Highway 101, and six cabins reportedly broke off their foundations and washed down the overflowing river, ending up against the Calle Real embankment. At least 15 vehicles were also swept down the river in the debris and water.

Among those caught up in the harrowing scene were Shane Vernon and Nicole Pritchett, who were visiting from Miami, Florida, with several others.

They woke up to the flash flood alert on their phones Friday morning.

“We didn’t know what that meant,” Pritchett told Noozhawk.

It was raining heavily at the time, Vernon noted.

Pritchett went outside and saw that “trees were just losing it down the river,” she said.

“And they’re all inside taking some photos. All of a sudden it comes up to my feet, and I run inside like, we gotta move, and before we could, our cabin started going down the river,” Pritchett said.

Everyone got out, Vernon said, but the cabin moved at least 10 yards.

Nearby El Capitan State Beach and campground sustained damage to the entrance road, and it was evacuated Friday morning, according to Eric Hjelstrom, State Parks superintendent.

Refugio State Beach remained open, Hjelstrom said, while Gaviota State Beach never opened Frida because there were concerns about roadway flooding.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton reported from the scene.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Roads and fields were flooded after heavy rains Friday, January 20, 2017, in San Luis Obispo County. And Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort was evacuated as San Luis Obispo Creek rose rapidly.

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