The wildfire that ravaged much of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties last month was the largest in California history. But it was the mudslides this week that proved far more deadly, killing 17 people. Rescue crews were looking for more than 40 people still missing on Friday morning. Officials said they expect the death toll to rise.

People dug through the mud as they looked for salvageable items. CreditJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

The mud came more rapidly and strongly than anyone predicted. Although Santa Barbara officials recommended on Monday night that residents should evacuate, few were alarmed by the suggestion and they stayed put, only to be woken by the sounds of boulders tumbling down the hills.

Bill Asher walked through mud in his home in Montecito, Calif.CreditMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The thick mud felt much like wet cement, leaving dozens of residents stuck for hours while they waited to be rescued. More than 100 homes were destroyed. On some properties,…

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