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Residents evacuating due to mudslide risk

October 12, 2009 12:11:31 AM PDT
The first major rainstorm of the season is coming, bringing a threat of mudslides in the burn areas of the Station Fire.Monday evening, the mudslide threat was so great that L.A. County roads in the Station Fire burn area will be closed to the public for 48 hours starting at 11:59 p.m. Monday.

Residents in the canyon areas are being told to evacuate before Tuesday.

The U.S. Forest Service says the risk of mudslides and debris flows is very severe, especially in the areas that were burned by the Station Fire.

The massive blaze burned 250 square miles of the Angeles National Forest. The fire started at the end of August. It took several weeks to contain and is the largest fire in L.A. County history.

There are already K-rails and sandbags in place in a number of neighborhoods to try to divert any kind of mud flow.

The hillsides burned by the Station Fire could give way, depending on how much rain falls.

The U.S. Geological Survey says there's an 80 percent chance of debris flow in the burn areas this winter. Some flows could contain up to 100,000 cubic yards of debris.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works has announced that due to forecasted rain, and in coordination with the U.S. Forest Service, it will close public access to all County roads within the Station Fire burn area as of 11:59 p.m. Monday night, October 12. The closures will remain in place for at least 48 hours.

The closures follow a decision by the U.S. Forest Service to issue evacuation notices to its staff and USFS lessees, and to move its firefighting equipment from mountain fire stations to the foothills.

As a result, the Angeles Forest Highway, Big Tujunga Canyon Road, and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, will be closed to all traffic except emergency vehicles and DPW personnel. Residents living in the burn areas will not be permitted to use the roads until the closure is lifted.

Bob Spencer, Public Affairs Manager for Public Works, said the roads would be unsafe during a rainstorm due to the potential for debris flows sweeping over them.

"We are taking this action in cooperation and coordination with U.S. Forest Service as a safety precaution," Spencer said. "We urge residents to continue to monitor news broadcasts, or visit the CARE website at www.dpwcare.org for further updates."

It was raining lightly off and on all afternoon Monday, but the rain was expected to intensify greatly in the next two days.

The Deukmejian Wilderness Park is in the highest areas of Glendale and La Crescenta. Officials are calling it "Ground Zero" because the Station Fire burned out three sides of the canyon comprising the park. Just below, the streets are very steep and there are lots of houses.

Residents in the highest neighborhoods were sandbagging furiously Monday while city of Glendale and County Public Works crews put down lines of K-rail barriers to divert water.

Monday morning, Hanna Farage, who lives at the top of Boston Avenue, had a sandbag barrier put down above her entryway to hold back the expected mud and dirt.

"City workers, I'm in complete contact with them, and they said they're going to put the concrete dividers in front of the house and on the sides, but for me to put the sandbags in front of the gates," said Farage.

Most foothill residents are taking the warnings of mudflows seriously.

Monday, Mike Padula was filling sandbags at Dunsmore Park to place in front of his home just below Deukmejian Park.

"We live below the ground, so we have to get them up on the top of the driveway and also in front of the house where it would come down the driveway," said Padula. "We've been there since '86, and it's been pretty much every time El Nino hits [we get flooded]."

Glendale officials say they'll activate the city's emergency command center Tuesday to respond to flood emergencies if they happen. And the city is drawing up a contingency evacuation plan should the flooding become severe.

"It is very serious. We're taking it very seriously,"

It's been decades since the threat of mudslides has been so high in these mountains.

Jack Zeimantz, who lives on Rockdale Avenue in La Crescenta, says he remembers when three houses just below his were swept away during a flood in 1975.

"There was a big gush of water, a wall of water that hit the end of the canyon, the debris basin filled up, and the water shot over the top of the street and over the other side and took out the houses," said Zeimantz. "There was three on one side and I believe there was two damaged on the other side."

Brownwen Aker, a resident of Tujunga Canyon, packed up her belongings and said she's ready to leave her family's home of more than 30 years.

The nearly 100-year-old house that was originally two Boy Scout cabins survived the Station Fire. But flames scorched the surrounding mountains, and there's nothing to hold the burnt vegetation in place once winter storms roll in.

"Come springtime, my house may be completely underneath rocks and boulders and will be unrecoverable, at which point I have to just turn and walk away," she said.

Aker packed up what she can't replace and put her furniture in storage.

"As much as it pains me to let go of such a beautiful place, at the same time, we never really own anything. We're only custodians for a time," she said.

State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is reminding California homeowners that most insurance policies don't cover flood damage, and it takes typically 30 days for a new flood insurance policy to take effect.

Poizner says now is the time to reevaluate your insurance needs.

It's also a good idea to take an inventory of your belongings and photograph valuable items.

There are no evacuation orders for residents in areas affected by the Sheep Fire at this time, but authorities said they are closely monitoring the weather.

StorQuest Self Storage is offering Sunland and Tujunga Canyon mudslide evacuees free self-storage space for one month and a free moving truck equipped with manpower to facilitate a quick and easy evacuation process.

StorQuest will have their company moving trucks stationed at the mandatory mudslide evacuation site in Tujunga Canyon to assist all evacuees Monday (October 12, 2009) and Tuesday (October 13, 2009). The area is expecting to 6 inches of heavy rain Tuesday afternoon, and a river of mud coming off the mountain.

For more relief information contact StorQuest Self Storage at (818) 352-8855 or visit StorQuest online at www.Storquest.com

Glendale city officials say it's not too late to call for assistance, at Glendale Public Works, (818) 548-3900.

Eyewitness News Reporters Melissa MacBride, Leo Stallworth, Gene Gleeson and Robert Holguin contributed to this report.

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