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Amid concern about mudslide risk, Glendale volunteers fill 1,000 sandbags

October 3, 2009 |  3:05 pm

Sandbag
Kenny Senstad lives near a grim reminder of what mudslides have wrought in his community.

It’s a memorial, erected close to his home in Montrose, marking the deaths of 12 people in the New Year’s Eve Flood of 1934, which followed a disastrous 1933 fire.

“Every time I look at it, it reminds me of all the people that died,” said Kenny, a 12-year-old Boy Scout.

And it’s why he came out this morning to help fill sandbags at Dunsmore Park in La Crescenta, an event put on by the city of Glendale after two recently packed community meetings at which residents voiced concern about mudslides this winter as a result of the Station fire.

The fire left many burn areas — including nearly all of the 712-acre Deukmejian Wilderness Park — devoid of vegetation that would stop debris from flowing toward homes when the winter rains start.

The city’s Public Works Department dumped 3,000 pounds of sand into the park, along with shovels, gloves and 1,000 burlap sacks for an event that began at 8 a.m. and was expected to last until noon. Yet within 90 minutes, and with the help of about 40 people, the pile was gone, and the nearby wooden pallets were stacked high with 30-pound sandbags.

“We’ll do this again, probably in a couple weeks,” said Jeff Weinstein, who helped coordinate this event for the city.

The sandbags filled today will remain on those pallets for residents to take as needed. The city has 2,000 concrete beams called K-rails and more than 3,000 sandbags ready to distribute to areas of potential risk, and the Glendale Public Works Department has set an Oct. 15 deadline to get everything in place, said Dave Ahern, capital projects manager for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“We’re hoping for the best, preparing for the worst,” he said.

One key piece of data the Public Works Department is waiting on before distributing those materials is preliminary maps prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey and other services that give projections of debris flows under certain conditions of precipitation.

Scientists from the USGS, meanwhile, will be installing gauges in Dunsmore Canyon on Tuesday to measure rainfall in burn areas and water flow across the ground. That information will then be shared with the National Weather Service, which can send the city alerts.

The L.A. County Flood Control Department has spent the last week targeting potential risk areas and advising residents on how to protect their property. They visited more Friday, including Mike Webster, 48, of Glendale, and John Sarkissian, 57, of La Crescenta, and both took loads of sandbags. Webster received a manila envelope with a projected flow map and instructions that he build a three-layer sandbag wall along the front of his property.

Although flooding can occur soon after fires, residents and officials noted that it wasn’t until three years after the Mills fire of 1975 that the area had mudslides.

“That’s the scary part for us here,” said Mike Lawler, 53, president of the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley. “We may be waiting years for mudslides.”

Said Glendale park naturalist Eric Grossman: “Complacency will set in, but this is a constant concern.”

--Baxter Holmes in Glendale

Photo: Volunteers Kenny Senstad, 12, left, helps fill sandbags at Dunsmore Park in La Crescenta. Credit: Christina House / For The Times.

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