MONTECITO, Calif. - As Montecito residents cope with the mudslide devastation, a key question remains -- Could this happen again when the rains return?
"In the long-term, it will happen again," said Ed Keller, a geology professor at UC Santa Barbara.
But in the short term, Keller says it's not impossible, but unlikely. What Montecito experienced on January 9th was very rare.
"You need to have the boulders, the fire, and a high-intensity rainfall," said Keller. "All of which means the possibility in any one year is one in the few hundred and even few thousand. So a really rare event."
Keller along with six colleagues recently started a research team looking into the mudslides that rocked Montecito. After scanning the area, they believe that the majority of the debris along the Montecito hillside came down during the last storm.
"Much of the big boulders had moved out of the mountain area where they were stored the last 200 years and moved out through Montecito. It will take a lot of time to build up enough big boulders to repeat that again in that event, although you might get a smaller one, but again, the chances are very low."
Instead, Keller says future rains might bring flash floods. And it's important to remember that the hillside will remain unstable for two to five years after a wildfire.
"The first two years after the wildfire is the danger time," said Keller. "This event just came days after the fire."