Winter storms destroy 3 homes, damage dozens of others in Ventura County

Large piles of wood and debris rest on a railroad bridge near Piru Jan. 17 after recent heavy rains impacted the area.
Large piles of wood and debris rest on a railroad bridge near Piru Jan. 17 after recent heavy rains impacted the area.

Severe winter storms earlier this month destroyed three Ventura County homes and damaged dozens of others, officials said Tuesday.

Rain pummeled the region Jan. 9-10, filling streams and rivers and causing mud and debris flows. Areas north of Ojai reported 18 inches of rainfall in just over 24 hours.

Highways and roads closed — at times, stranding motorists — as they flooded with water, mud and rocks. One woman drowned as floodwaters rose in the Santa Clara River. Swift-water rescue teams rescued more than 80 others, and county helicopter crews helped evacuate Matilija Canyon residents as the remote community was cut off by the storms.

So far, residents have reported damage to more than 180 private properties, said Patrick Maynard, director of the Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides disaster assistance to residents and businesses in counties that qualify for the funding. But first, local jurisdictions must go through an extensive process to show local needs and demonstrate damage to homes, Maynard told county supervisors at a meeting Tuesday.

The county has completed a preliminary damage assessment with state and federal teams and continues to update them about damage, he said.

“We're very hopeful that within the next few days — as early as today — we will receive an approval from FEMA for the individual assistance program,” Maynard said Tuesday.

Jerardo "Champ" Hurtado of Piru helps his parents get mud out of their property along Main Street Jan. 17.
Jerardo "Champ" Hurtado of Piru helps his parents get mud out of their property along Main Street Jan. 17.

So far, the reports of private property damage include:

  • 3 homes destroyed.

  • 14 homes with major damage, described as at least 18 inches of flooding or mud indoors.

  • 52 homes with minor damage, described as indoor flooding below the 18-inch mark.

  • 100-plus properties with other damage such as debris or mud outside the home.

“As you can imagine, people are pretty frustrated with the amount of debris on the property,” Maynard said.

Unless homeowners have flood insurance, policies typically do not cover the cost of removing debris. FEMA’s individual assistance program, however, can help with clearing properties as well as temporary rental assistance and other aid.

County officials declared a local emergency due to the storms last week, and the Board of Supervisors ratified the proclamation on Tuesday.

Some residents also are getting help from Team Rubicon, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles that provides immediate relief after disasters. The organization's volunteers include military veterans, first responders and civilians.

Site surveys started Monday and cleanup efforts were scheduled to begin Wednesday, said Devon Miller, a senior communications associate with Team Rubicon. The nonprofit also is working in several other California counties hard hit by recent storms.

More than 80 requests for debris removal help were received from local residents, Maynard said.

On public property, the county's latest estimates for damages and cleanup costs of roads, water pipes and other infrastructure total $33 million.

During the storms, roughly 55 miles on dozens of county roads were closed. As of Tuesday, crews had cleared and fully reopened about 40 of those miles, said Dave Fleisch, the county's assistant public works director.

Another 13 miles of roads were open for local residents and emergency traffic only, he said. The remaining areas on Camp Chaffee, Old Creek and McNeil roads in the Ojai Valley were still impassable either because of flooding at creek crossings or other problems.

“We estimate now about $15 million worth of damage to county roads,” Fleisch said. “And, that’s rising because we haven’t been able to do all of the assessments.”

Crews also were clearing 41 downed trees and had removed roughy 35,000 cubic yards of debris — about 3,500 truckloads — from the roads, he said. Meanwhile, culverts, ditches and areas under bridges still need to be cleaned up.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Fleisch said.

To report storm damage or for more information about federal assistance, visit

Cheri Carlson covers the environment and county government for the Ventura County Star. Reach her at or 805-437-0260.

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Winter storms destroy 3 Ventura County homes, damage dozens