"I think all of us have learned our lessons on this one. We were all bad children and ignored the warning," he said.
After the fires, some said they had disaster fatigue.
"We were all tired of it," Cradduck said. "Now here we are, shovels in hand, trying to get our vehicles out. Mother Nature came back and dealt us a big blow, but it's our fault. We should have heeded the warning."
Gater was also skeptical about whether more alerts could have changed minds, especially in the early morning hours when many people were asleep.
"A lot of people don't listen to their phones when they go to bed," he said. "That's why we messaged people on Sunday for something that was 30 hours away."
Mandatory evacuation orders issued Sunday had focused on foothill communities home to about 7,000 people above Montecito, areas closer to where the Thomas fire had burned. Deputies had gone door-to-door there Monday night, including in Romero Canyon, where scores were stranded Tuesday and Wednesday after the mudslides.
Voluntary evacuation orders were issued at the same time for about 23,000 others, including in some neighborhoods where mudflows buried homes and killed people.
"This isn't an exact science in terms of actually defining where something is going to happen," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters Tuesday. "Obviously a lot depends on Mother Nature -- the magnitude of the rainfall, the magnitude of the mudslides."
Gater said that although research by the county and by federal experts suggested mudflows were likely to result from the storm, officials didn't think they would go as far south as they did. Debris from the burned areas overwhelmed creeks, sending the flow into neighborhoods and then onto the 101 Freeway.
Despite the destruction, Gater said, he believes the warnings and preparations paid off.
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