(CNN)Thousands of Southern Californians were allowed to return to their homes Friday, one day after the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office announced a mandatory evacuation in anticipation of a powerful storm that could bring "dangerous flash flooding, mud and debris flow."
Evacuation orders lifted for Santa Barbara County after storm passes
"The worst of the storm has passed and we are cautiously optimistic that due to a significant amount of pre-storm preparation we have come through this with minimal impact," said Rob Lewin, Santa Barbara County Management Director.
The sheriff's office, in consultation with fire agencies and other public safety officials, lifted the evacuation order at 9 a.m. (noon ET) on Friday.
On Thursday, more than 20,000 people in Goleta, Santa Barbara, Summerland and Carpinteria were ordered to evacuate their homes "out of an abundance of caution," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said.
The order also included Montecito, the community where at least 21 people were killed and two people were never found after mudflows in January. The evacuations were taking place in areas scorched by December's massive Thomas Fire and two other blazes.
Mark Olson was outside his home Thursday filling up bags with dirt from January's mudflows. He and some friends were putting the bags around the garage and setting other sacks to funnel water away from his property.
"We're putting all the debris that came down to use," he said. "There's a lot of wishful thinking and hope that somehow this time around it's not as devastating as the last (storm in January)."
Before the latest storm passed and the evacuation orders were lifted, Laura Ziouani and her family packed, took their dogs and headed to a hotel.
"It's difficult to keep leaving but I think it's the best thing to do," Ziouani said.
Thursday's evacuation was the third one in the past months and Ziouani said she knows it may not be the last one.
"(It's) frustrating. At the end of the day, you have to do what you have to do," she added.