By Raiza Giorgi

The thundering sounds of the mud and debris coming down the mountain were unforgettable for Cynthi Bacon. The longtime rancher went out to capture a video of her creek rising, and ended up watching a mudflow race down the mountain. The piles of debris, mud and water have ended up clogging a culvert on Highway 154 near Lake Cachuma, which prompted Caltrans officials to shut the road down until they can assess the damage. 

Highway 154 has been closed indefinitely from Highway 246 in Santa Ynez to Highway 192 in Santa Barbara, as crews work to clear the culvert that was caused by flooding and debris from the 2017 Whittier Fire, according to local officials. 

Original estimates by Caltrans said the highway would reopen Sunday Feb. 3, however upon further inspection they determined that there is so much debris it will take much longer and there is no definitive date set. 

“Our driveway is gone and all the work we have done since the Whittier Fire to get back to normal has been washed away,” Bacon said. 

The Bacon’s are longtime cattle ranchers and survived when the Whittier Fire ripped through in the summer of 2017. Then on the Jan. 9, 2018 rain event which caused the Montecito mudslide, they were left without water and spent the year since repairing water lines and their well, along with installing solar panels. 

“Well all that work is gone too now. We are used to not having water for weeks, and luckily just filled our tank up which should last us for awhile. We haven’t gone to look at the road conditions and if the well is even still there yet,” Bacon said. 

Bacon said she loves posting the water flows to Facebook for her friends and family to see and was shocked when her video of the debris flow went viral. The video has been shared more than 5,000 times and shown on national media outlets. 

Photo by Cynthi Bacon

“Thinking back as I stood on the edge and filmed it, I’m not sure I would do it again. I didn’t realize until it was happening, and so thankful it didn’t sweep our house away. I was near the garage when I took that video,” Bacon said. 

Bacon said they have great neighbors who have allowed them to ride their all-terrain vehicles to their property and use their trucks to get to town for supplies, and they are grateful for that. 

(Watch the pumps here) The culvert below their property at Highway 154 is currently below at least 35 feet of water as heavy equipment crews are working to clear it with excavators and pumps to drain the water, according to Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers.

He added that there will have to be evaluations to the highway to determine if further damage has been caused, but reports of the road washing away aren’t exactly accurate. 

“The term ‘washed away’ isn’t quite what we would call it. There has to be further evaluations and determinations for us to use that term specifically,” Shivers said. 

The Star will update as soon as the highway is open.