Dozens of stranded residents have been rescued by helicopter in areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties - some from their vehicles and others from rooftops.
The fires burned most vegetation, leaving flawless conditions for the latest tragedy to unfold.
"Right now our assets are focused on determining if anyone is still alive in any of those structures that have been damaged", Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told the AP. She said that her property was fine and that the damage "pales in comparison" to what her neighbors were going through.
"All hell broke loose", said Peter Hartmann, a dentist who moonlights as a news photographer for the local website Noozhawk.
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Hundreds of firefighters and others sifted through mud and debris in Montecito, a town 145 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Los Angeles, after powerful rainstorms triggered a mudslide on Tuesday.
Thomas Tighe said he stepped outside his Montecito home in the middle of the night and heard "a deep rumbling, an ominous sound I knew was ... boulders moving as the mud was rising".
The slide also caused a "significant" gas leak, and fix efforts left homes on the street with no gas, electricity or water.
Comedian Ellen DeGeneres shared a photo on Twitter of the devastation in Montecito.
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Some of Montecito residents on Wednesday returned to their homes to see what they could salvage from the ruins.
Updates for this disaster will no doubt continue, and parts of coastal U.S. Route 101 are expected to remain closed for another few days, if not longer.
Flooding and debris inundate a portion of Highway 101 at Olive Mill Road. "I live there, Oprah lives there".
Forecasts of rain meant the authorities did issue an evacuation order in Santa Barbara county in case of mudslides, but it is estimated only around 10 to 15% of people in the area obeyed the warning.
"While some residents cooperated with the evacuations, many did not".
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