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Nervously awaiting the rain in Yorba Linda

November 25, 2008 |  3:01 pm

In one Yorba Linda neighborhood threatened by possible mudslides, hardly anyone seemed to be heeding today's voluntary evacuation order. But they sure were ready: On Lotus Avenue in the Box Canyon area, nearly every single home was bunkered with sandbags piled three deep lining the driveways and garages.

The residents are still recovering from devastating wildfires, which destroyed or damaged more than 180 homes in the north Orange County city and blackened the steep hillsides abutting their street right down to the sidewalk.

Erik Irwin, for one, wasn't going anywhere. During the fires, the 20-year-old had hiked back into the neighborhood against authorities' orders, where he wielded a garden hose to help protect his parents' house from spot fires just feet away.

Nearby, a maintenance shed had burned to the ground. "There's no way they're going to make any one of us leave," he said of his neighbors. He and another neighbor analyzed the slopes, theorizing what direction flowing mud might take.

"To tell you the truth, I'm getting really tired of the natural disaster stuff." The racket from city crews installing a concrete barrier at the base of the hillside kept some residents up overnight.

Midday today, a swift water rescue unit from the Orange County Fire Authority surveyed the neighborhood, asking locals about previous flooding problems. The unit was working to identify possible trouble spots and provide a presence in Yorba Linda and Santiago Canyon, said Capt. Jack Perisho.

Longtime resident Caley Lay, 25, recalled a flood that coated Lotus Avenue in mud, branches, cacti and frogs. Around the corner, Stuart Nichols was piling sandbags against the base of his garage. The consultant, who lives on Foxtail Drive -- also exposed to burnt slopes -- said his family was staying put for the moment but had a few overnight bags packed just in case.

They were also taking keepsakes like their kids' baby pictures to a friend to store. The city, Nichols said, "didn't respond very well when the fires came." With the well-publicized mudslide warnings, "they're trying to overcompensate, over-communicate." The family had planned to go to Havasu for the holiday, but was probably going to scuttle that trip due to the forecast.

"I'm ready for 2008 to be done," said Nichols, 44.

Brian Janney was still heading to see in-laws in Sacramento for Thanksgiving, mudslides or no. "I'm definitely nervous to be leaving," said Janney as he packed the family's Suburban and his small son and daughter played in the yard behind him. But he's confident neighbors on the tight-knit Lotus Avenue will keep him posted. He stayed behind during the fires to keep an eye on his and others' houses.

"In the last 24 hours, everybody's [sandbag] piles got a lot bigger.... It's like the Great Wall of China over there." Some neighbors said volunteers helped distribute the heavy bags Saturday. Late this morning a couple of residents loaded sandbags piled in the community park into their trucks and SUVs. The Janneys have invited another family, whose house was destroyed, to use their home instead during the long holiday weekend.

-- Susannah Rosenblatt