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Flood watches issued for L.A. burn areas as storm moves in

October 13, 2009 |  7:04 am

Infrared Satellite Image

The National Weather Service has issued flash-flood watches this morning for mountain burn areas from Santa Barbara to San Bernardino as a powerful winter storm moved into Southern California.

Rain was beginning to fall this morning, with the strongest portions of the storm expected late today and early Wednesday morning. The National Weather Service issued the flood watches for areas burned by the fires in Santa Barbara as well as the massive Station fire is Los Angeles County and the Sheep fire near Wrightwood.

The watch also includes areas burned in last year's large Sayre and Marek fires in the San Fernando Valley areas.

DebrisBasinThumb "Flash-flooding and debris flows will be a particular threat in and below the recent burn areas," the NWS said in its statement.

Officials said residents in burn areas should prepare for possible mudslides, rock slides and debris flows "even during periods with little or no rain falling."

The storm is expected to dump 3 to 6 inches of rain.

As news of the coming wet weather circulated, residents in charred foothill areas scrambled to fill sandbags or pack their belongings and flee areas prone to flooding. Officials also worked to place huge concrete mudslide barriers along roads in areas including La Cañada Flintridge.

The storm, which originated in the Gulf of Alaska, is expected to combine with moisture-laden remnants of a typhoon from the western Pacific, making the system wetter than normal, the National Weather Service said. On top of that, the storm system will be driven by strong winds blowing from the south, intensifying rainfall on the south-facing mountain slopes that burned from Altadena to Acton during the huge Station fire that broke out in August.

"We're expecting a pretty good system to come through," said Jamie Meier, a meteorologist with the weather service's Oxnard office. "What's making this so significant is that tropical moisture from the remnants of the typhoon is moving eastward and will interact with this storm system."

For the last 30 years, Meier noted, the average rainfall for the entire month of October has been about half an inch. "This one storm will make it a wet October," she said.

Last week, the U.S. Geological Survey released a sobering forecast for communities hit by the Station fire, saying major mudslides will be highly likely during the winter rain season.

Kevin Schmidt, a research geologist at the USGS, said Monday that the locations most at risk are in La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta and a few areas of Pasadena sitting against the San Gabriel Mountains.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Brown, who commands rescue units in the La Cañada Flintridge area, said personnel will be monitoring hillsides in the areas ravaged by the Station fire when the storm arrives. He said sandbags will be available for residents at all county fire stations. Some will also have sand available.

Olivia Brown of La Cañada Flintridge had picked up 200 sandbags, which she was hoping to place around her house before the storm arrived. Standing behind her one-story stucco home Monday, she looked up toward the rugged hillside.

"All that is supposed to come down," she said. "There are some big boulders up there. And we've had daily landslides since the fires. This is ground zero right here."

Brown, 44, and her husband had already spent a week staking steel rods attached to wood logs into their backyard to divert debris away from their home on Ocean View Boulevard near Earnslow Drive. But over the weekend, they added an 8-foot-tall chain-link fence reinforced with railroad ties across the back of their house.

-- Baxter Holmes and Robert J. Lopez

How mudslides form after a fire

Map: NWS

--Check out The Times' mudslide warning map.

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