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I.E. burn areas watch for rain, mudslides

October 12, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
All eyes are on the skies and the hillsides as the first real rain of the season approaches. Experts have warned that the damage could be catastrophic. Wildfires did significant damage in Tujunga, La Crescenta and La Canada.In the Inland Empire, the fire near Wrightwood is contained, but Lytle Creek and Lone Pine Canyon, just below, are in danger.

In Yucaipa, homeowners are bracing for the worst. That's the area that was burned by the Pendleton Fire last month near Grand View and Fremont. The fire burned all the hillsides in the surrounding area, and if rain comes, there is concern that water will descend on neighborhoods.

A front-loader was in the area Monday, moving at least three K-rails to necessary locations. Yucaipa, Oak Glen and Lytle Creek are all areas under scrutiny.

Lytle Creek was calm Monday afternoon, but if a storm moves in as predicted, the creek might look more like a river. And with hillsides burned by the Sheep Fire just last week, there's the possibility of mudslides and flooding.

"It can happen ... mudslides, the fires there, so the mudslides can be dead on, like the fire, it went that way," said Florencio Castro, resident of Lytle Creek, pointing down the road.

Castro can only hope the mudslides go the other way. He lives right next to Lytle Creek. If debris builds up, and the water level rises, there could be problems.

"There's an escape route right here, and another right there, so in case it floods all the way to freeway there's an escape route," said Castro.

U.S. Forest Service crews were in Lytle Creek, as well as Lone Pine Canyon.

The Sheep Fire burned this area a week ago, so there are concerns. As long as it's not a strong storm, they say things should be OK.

"We could see the road fail, and additional soil go down, which could possibly obstruct Lytle Creek Road -- however we don't see an immediate threat to the homes there," said John Miller, U.S. Forest Service.

Skip-loaders set up a K-rail line in Yucaipa, building a wall to keep mudslides away.

"I'd rather be safe than sorry," said one local resident.

Still, most residents don't think there will be a problem this week. At least, that's what they hope.

"Well, they said there's a big storm coming in too, so better to be prepared and not need it than not have it and need it," said Wiseman.

Better safe than sorry -- in fact, over in the Lytle Creek/Lone Pine Canyon area, the Burned Area Emergency Response team is there checking out the soils, making sure which areas are going to flood, which areas won't, and they'll let residents know. It takes eight days for them to do that. The Sheep Fire started just eight days ago, so the assessment is not final.

"They assemble a team of botanists, biologists, hydrologists, soil scientists -- all the scientific experts -- to go through and do a close evaluation, and they look at the burn patterns," said Miller. "You know, obviously an area that's burned extremely hot becomes hydrophobic, where when it does rain, the water simply runs off the topsoil."

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