Winter rains could cause huge mudslides

LOS ANGELES A frightening forecast issued by the /*U.S. Geological Survey*/ says rainwater through canyons in areas burned by the /*Station Fire*/ could move enough debris to cover a football field 60 feet deep.

In addition to neighborhoods at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, the USGS report states that rainstorms could potentially trigger debris flows to areas in Big Tujunga Canyon, Pacoima Canyon, Arroyo Seco, West Fork of the San Gabriel River and Devils Canyon.

The Station Fire burned 251 square miles in the /*Angeles National Forest*/.

While the fire is out and the weather has cooled, residents of the foothill communities are watching and waiting for Mother Nature's next move.

"We're very concerned in the La Crescenta and Montrose area. The community was very, very impacted by the recent fires and now the flooding that could possibly happen," said Krista Smiley, resident of La Crescenta.

Over the past weeks, federal scientists have mapped the burned hillsides, trying to assess the chances that rainstorms in the coming months will unleash destructive debris flows. They came to the conclusion that it's almost a certainty.

"We're seeing a very high potential for significant volumes of material in the form of debris flows to be generated from the burned basins," said Susan Cannon, USGS.

Cannon says debris flows in the worst-case scenario could reach Foothill Boulevard below Beckley Canyon and even further below Cooks Canyon.

History shows she's right. Seventy-five years ago, 38 people died in mudslides that spilled out of these same canyons, and 12 people were killed while sheltering in the American Legion Hall on Rosemont Avenue. A plaque memorializes the spot.

The area now has storm drains and debris basins, but in severe storms mud can overtop the dams and inundate homes as they did in La Crescenta in 1978.

Ever since the Station Fire, county crews have been busy cleaning out the 30 debris basins just below the burn area. At Densmore Canyon, they've removed thousands of cubic yards to make room for the flows that are sure to follow.

"We've taken the approach of recognizing that there could be storm after storm after storm this winter. If there are repeat storms, then those debris basins could be near or at their capacities," predicts Cannon.

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