Much-needed rain hit the Santa Clarita Valley this weekend; but with the rain comes worry about vulnerable hillsides, potential mudslides and debris flow.
Especially at-risk areas include slopes damaged by the recent wildfires in the Sand Fire, Sage Fire and Calgrove Fire burn areas, where barren hills make it easier for dirt and rocks to slide off during or after a storm.
“Even a reasonable rain event in a burn area can cause some flow of water that would have been absorbed otherwise,” said Steven Frasher, public information officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.
With the impending winter season, agencies throughout Los Angeles County and the Santa Clarita Valley are encouraging residents to take action, prepare for emergencies and follow official instructions.
Engineers with Public Works already met with local residents in burn areas about the best ways to protect their private properties in the upcoming months and years.
“The engineers I spoke to felt the conversations were engaging and most homeowners seemed to embrace the advice they were given,” Frasher said.
Residents are also encouraged to keep their storm drains clear, utilize sand bags to move mud flows away from their properties and invest in flood insurance through the FEMA umbrella before a major storm hits, according to Frasher.
Fire stations throughout Santa Clarita are offering free sandbags to residents to defend their homes against the dangers of mudslides and debris flow.
“Our fire stations will have sand bags and residents are welcome to come by to prefill (the bags) themselves and place around their property,” said Stephanie English, community services liaison with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
The city of Santa Clarita, L.A. County Fire Department and Department of Public Works all recommend that residents sign up to receive emergency text alerts or email alerts. In Santa Clarita, residents can subscribe by texting “SCEMERGENCY” to 888777 to receive public alerts from the city and area agencies.
Gail Morgan, communications manager for the city of Santa Clarita, said the city revamped its Ready for Rain website this year to include information relevant to the burn areas. The site includes preparedness tips and information for residents so they are “Ready for Rain.”
“Residents should look at that before any sort of weather event happens,” Morgan said.
Officials from L.A. County Fire also urge residents to call 911 to report anything concerning things like rocks coming down a hillside, or water running into a neighborhood when it is not raining.
“The fire department is there 24 hours a day,” English said. “For them to come out and assess the situation day or night is not a problem.”
Officials from the L.A. County Fire Department, Department of Public Works, Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Department, Red Cross and Los Angeles Country Department of Animal Care and Control are all involved in planning for storm disasters.
Together, they put together an Incident Action Plan (IAP) that instructs the agencies on how to respond in case of an emergency situation.
“We’re planning for the worst so we’re not surprised and we’re not waiting for something happen,” English said. “We’re planning for something to happen so we’re prepared for the unfortunate.”
If weather forecasts predict heavy rainfall, incident commanders will communicate with each other beforehand to discuss their roles and what the possibilities of the event are, according to English.
“Everything will be in coordination so all will be able to respond in unison,” she said.
Before rain hits, Public Works and the city clear debris basins and storm basins, and inspect parks, trails and facilities.
“The debris basins have been prepared far ahead of time,” Frasher said. “We have the infrastructure set up anticipating mud slides where they could hit.”
However, with mudslides and debris flow there is an element of uncertainty that might not be seen in an emergency like a fire, where elements like wind, heat and dryness can be calculated and anticipated, English said.
“In this kind of potential incident we don’t know what will happen,” she said. “What the incident command team will be doing is evaluating the threats as best they can… it is very unpredictable and all we’re trying to do is make the best decisions possible to protect lives and property.”
Issued by a unified command of representatives from leading agencies, the Color Alert System on the Ready for Rain website informs residents of evacuation orders in effect ranging in increasing severity from green to yellow, orange and red.
Officials encourage residents to follow any evacuation warning to avoid putting themselves or first responders at risk.
“For people not to evacuate during evacuations (alerts) is very dangerous,” English said.
In the worst case scenario, a major hill would give way and would push down mud, boulders and broken trees in its path and would burry homes, according to English.
“Rescuing people from thick mud and under deep mud is a true catastrophic incident,” she said. “The risk to lives is serious.”
The potential tragedy with a mudslide of this size is why officials encourage residents to evacuate whenever they are warned.
“If the Incident Command Team does call for evacuations, they are always very aware of how inconvenient to be taken from your home,” English said. “It is our first priority to allow residents back into their homes as soon as it’s possible and as soon as it’s safe.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_