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Residents, crews keeping close eye on burn areas

December 12, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The hillsides in La Canada Flintridge and La Crescenta are under close watch as rain continues to fall bringing with it the threat of mudslides.Officials say the risk of mud and debris flows is "minor," but crews have still lined the streets, prepared to evacuate any residents should danger come to the burn areas.

The hillsides scorched by the Station Fire last fall are lined with k-rails and sandbags. However that may not be enough to keep heavy flows back if the rain starts to pick up.

The National Weather Service has a flash flood advisory in place for areas stripped of foliage during the brush fires until 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon. County officials are advising residents to have some personal belongings packed should things take a turn for the worse.

"All the bags are packed and ready to go," said La Canada Flintridge resident Kels Jesse. "We've been packed since this first rain and when we had that 20 minute rain where everything came down we started putting things in storage."

The hillsides can absorb the rainfall if it continues to be light. Officials and residents say they are concerned if downpour becomes heavy and too much for the hills to handle.

"It's surprising that it's still holding up," said Jesse. "I've walked up to the top of the hill, and you see how much dirt is up there, but it's holding so far."

Widespread power outages were reported Venice, where 2500 people were without power. 1700 customers were also blacked out in the Crenshaw area.

The rain also caused some power outages in Toluca Lake. Officials said about 860 customers were without power until noon.

A new report out Friday detailing recovery from the Station Fire showed some of Los Angeles County's storm basins may be too small. Seven basins intended to protect homes from disaster are considered undersized and need to be expanded.

A $5 million project to boost the size of the basins was laid out in a Station Fire recovery report this week to the County Board of Supervisors from Director of Public Works Gail Farber. The basins in question are Big Briar, Mullally, Snover, Pickens, Starfall, Pinelawn and Rowley.

Crews already began expanding the basins by adding wall height or digging the basins deeper. However, officials said work on the expansions won't be completeed until next year, leaving some residents a bit nervous about the current rainy season.

"Right up above, because there's no vegetation now, it's going to just flow down, the mud and the ash," said Nancy Weyermuller, a La Canada Flintridge resident. "They're planning on making them bigger, but it takes a while to do that, so it's not going to help us this winter."

County crews spent weeks cleaning out 28 debris basins within the Station Fire burn areas. A hard rain last month caused substantial mud flows in La Cresenta and La Canada, which nearly filled many of those basins.

"They work very hard. They've had just dozens of trucks up there every hour trying to empty the basins," said Stan Manatt, a La Canada Flintridge resident.

Manatt said light rains don't worry him, but heavier storms are a different story.

"We get some real thunderstorms up here from time to time, where you get say an inch of rain in less than an hour. Then you've got a problem," said Manatt.

Throughout many La Canada and La Crescenta neighborhoods, K-rails, sandbags and plywood were put up to help divert any runoff away from homes.

Expansion of all the basins was expected to be finished by October 2010.


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