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A mandatory evacuation order for residents living near the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier fire burn areas has been issued by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office.

Forecasts provided by the National Weather Service in Oxnard indicate a storm will pass over the area early Tuesday morning, bringing with it the possibility of mud or debris flow. Individuals in "extreme risk" areas must be out of the area by 8 p.m. today. No mandatory evacuation order has been issued for the "high risk" areas, but county officials have placed them under a recommended evacuation warning.

"The National Weather Service has informed us that the approaching storm is of greater intensity than was previously anticipated," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. "The rate of rainfall is predicted to meet or exceed the threshold level that could trigger debris flows."

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The projected storm is expected to hit areas of southern Santa Barbara County and has the potential to meet the half-inch-per-hour threshold that triggers mud or debris flows. Thunderstorms in the system are possible, the NWS warns, and may hike the rainfall rate to .7 inch per hour in higher-elevation areas. A flash flood watch has also been issued.

The Santa Barbara County chapter of the American Red Cross has established an evacuation center at the center at Goleta Valley Community Center, located at 5679 Hollister Ave. in Goleta. Anyone seeking assistance evacuating animals (either large or small) can contact Santa Barbara County Animal Services at 681-4332.

The California Highway Patrol will continue to monitor the storm activity and work to ensure Highway 101 remains open. Should the agency need to close the highway, the CHP would do so prior to the arrival of the intense portion of the storm. Any closures will be communicated to the public when the decision is made.

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga