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Storm expected to dump 3 to 6 inches of rain on fire-ravaged hillsides, officials say

October 12, 2009 |  3:27 pm

A powerful winter-like storm is expected to batter fire-ravaged hillsides in Los Angeles County with 3 to 6 inches of rain beginning Tuesday night and lasting through early Wednesday morning, officials said today.

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 powerful winds blowing from a southerly direction, which means that rainfall will probably be stronger on the southern-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. Those are the two ingredients."

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

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

Martin Pastucha, Pasadena’s director of public works, said the only areas of risk in Pasadena are Eaton Canyon and Arroyo Seco, yet residential areas there are not threatened because the south faces of the hillsides above Pasadena did not burn, he said.

In Vogel Flats, near Big Tujunga Canyon Road, Bronwen Aker was busy packing the contents of her one-bedroom cabin into cardboard boxes.

Notified by the U.S. Forest Service to evacuate her home by Tuesday, Aker worried that if mudslides washed out nearby roads, she might not have another opportunity to gather family heirlooms like her late grandmother's collection of hand-woven baskets.

"I'm erring on the side of caution," she said.

As a handful of friends helped fold blouses and organize books, Aker, 45, picked up her Chihuahua and motioned to the remote land outside her bedroom window.

"This is paradise. This area is so peaceful and at night the sky is dark enough I can see the stars," she said. "I know these mountains better than I know most people."

But Aker knows that debris from those charred mountains may wash up to her door, so she planned to put plywood and a plastic tarp against the brick and knotty pine home that she's lived in for 11 years.

Built in the early 1900s and once used by Boy Scout troops, the cabin has been in Aker's family for decades. It's the same place where she nursed her ailing grandmother, who passed away last year.

"It's not about losing money, it's about the memories here," she said. "This is the first time I've been truly afraid of losing the house."

-- Robert J. Lopez, Corina Knoll and Baxter Holmes

Image: Storm approaches from the Pacific Ocean (NWS)