Heavy rain on Tuesday, which followed 10 months of drought, sent sticky mud and debris flowing from the hills into Montecito and other towns in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles.
"Had we not gone over there, I don't think that kid would have [survived]", he added.
With many roads blocked, rescue crews used helicopters to pluck people from their rooftops.
Santa Barbara County Fire Department firefighters respond to mud and debris flow due to heavy rain in Montecito.
"This is the 101 freeway in my neighborhood right now", she said. Fourteen helicopters and four water rescue teams were aiding the effort.
United States 101 Freeway at the Olive Mill Road overpass flooded with runoff water from Montecito Creek and blocked with mudflow and debris following heavy rains in Montecito, Calif., Jan. 9, 2018.
"They're finding people and bodies and I mean, you hear the word mudslide and you have no idea the impact that it has, but after the largest fire in California history, it's catastrophic".
The area is home to a number of celebrities, including actor Rob Lowe, chat show host Ellen DeGeneres and TV personality and actor Oprah Winfrey. "I was frozen yesterday morning thinking, 'This is a million times worse than that fire ever was'". "We're just happy for everyone that makes it".
The heavy rains have been unsafe because vegetation is missing - burned away by the Thomas Fire - that would normally help channel the water and mud flow.
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The flooding comes just weeks after the Thomas fire burned almost 282,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, stripping hillsides of vegetation needed to stem water runoff during rainstorms.
The ESRI map combines data collected from various geographical agencies such as USGS, Bureau of Land Management and NGA as well as NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The drenching rainstorm that triggered the disaster cleared out and was no longer a hindrance as searchers made their way across a landscape strewn with boulders and covered shoulder high in places with mud the consistency of wet cement.
Thousands had to leave their homes, many for the second time in two months.
The most impacted area has been Montecito, the wealthiest community in Santa Barbara county.
County Fire Captain Dave Zaniboni said five people were found dead on Tuesday in Montecito, possibly as a result of the storm.
"All hell broke loose", said Peter Hartmann, a dentist who moonlights as a news photographer for the local website Noozhawk.