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Crescenta burn areas warned of mudslides

September 14, 2009 12:01:47 AM PDT
No relief for homeowners in the burn area of the Station Fire. Those homeowners may have escaped the flames, but the charred hillsides remain vulnerable to the potential of mudslides and debris flows this autumn.People in La Crescenta are being told to prepare.

The Station Fire is now almost out but these barren hillsides hang like the Sword of Damocles over homes and neighborhoods that are below the Angeles Crest Forest and officials are now telling people to prepare for rockslides and floods. They say now is the time to prepare.

First fires, then floods. It's the Southland's tragic twosome and right now the burned-over hillsides are so barren, mudslides are certain if any rain falls this winter.

You only have to look back at Christmas 2003 to know the danger is real.

A family of 14 was wiped out at a Waterman Canyon church camp that year buried by mud and rocks after a rainstorm. The mountains above had been stripped of vegetation in a fire two months before.

And go back even further to 1934 when 38 people died in La Crescenta and Montrose in a deluge of rocks and mud. The flood followed a fire that had burned the same canyons and hillsides scorched last week.

The U.S. Forest Service has dispatched geologists and vegetation experts to the burn areas to map the worst spots for mudslides.

"It's amazing the degree to how fast a lot of that material suddenly moves down the slope once that network of roots has been removed and is no longer there to hold it," said Jerry DeGraff, U.S. Forest Service geologist.

"The first storms in the fall, there isn't going to be anything growing so there is going to be soil movement," said plant ecologist Jan Beyers.

Beyers says the burned-over brush and trees will rejuvenate themselves but in a process that takes time, certainly not fast enough to beat the winter rains.

"The same rains that it takes to get seeds germinating are unfortunately going to be rains that are going to start to move some of the soil, so the first year after fire there will be soil moving and the native plants can't grow back fast enough," said Beyers.

Residents are not sure how vulnerable their homes may be, but the county is offering to send flood-control engineers out to show them how to sandbag and channel water and mud around their homes. The service is free. But rangers warn that before rain there will probably be more wind to kick up clouds of soot and dust.

"If we get some Santa Ana wind events, you're going to be eating this dirt for a while. Top-soils are going to blow off of these hills into your homes, into your airways, you're going to be breathing this stuff," said Nathan Judy, U.S. Forest Service.

There's not much you can do about the dust, but if you would like the county to send someone out to your house you can call the L.A. Department of County Works at (800) 214-4020.

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