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As rains advance, residents split on mandatory evacuation orders

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Residents in the foothill communities of Glendora and Azusa were working feverishly to comply with mandatory evacuation orders issued amid fears that heavy rains Friday could send mud and debris flowing into their neighborhoods.

Authorities have said that more than 1,000 homes are threatened by a possible mudslide and that the evacuations are being ordered as a precaution.

Many Glendora residents planned to abide by the orders, but not all. Among them, 75-year-old Fred Bernhardt. Wearing a gray sweatshirt with USA across the front, plaid pajamas and slippers, the 30-year resident stood in his driveway as his neighbors packed up.

Just after noon, a Glendora police officer drove by his house at the end of cul-de-sac on Englewild Drive announcing the evacuation orders.

"You guys leaving!?" Bernhardt shouted to his neighbors.

"Yeah, was thinkin' about it," Chris Grattan, 35, said as he loaded belongings into his wife's minivan. "I just think it's best for the kiddos a little bit, ya know? Get to visit their grandma."

"Im not goin'," Bernhardt said to himself as he watched his neighbors pack. "We've never had any problems."

In Glendora, residents north of Sierra Madre Avenue between Yucca Ridge Road and Glendora Mountain Road must evacuate. In Azusa, the order applies to residents on Ridge View Drive. Both areas are situated below the Colby fire burn area, which denuded hillsides of rock- and dirt-holding vegtation.

In January, the wildfire burned 1,900 acres and destroyed five homes and damaged seven others. 

Glendora City Manager Chris Jeffers said the risk is even greater now because there are 70% to 80% more structures in the danger zone than in 1969 and 90% of the hillside vegetation was burned.

Residents like Susan Paulus remember all too well the destruction that can be caused by flowing debris. She recalled the massive muslides of 1969 that came after a wildfire the year before. The mudflows destroyed 200 homes and killed 34 people.

"When I was young, it was towels under the doors," she said as crews around her off-loaded concrete barriers known as K-rails along the curb. "In '69, they weren't ready for it."

This time, however, city officials are hoping for a different outcome.

Workers have been erecting K-rails to direct the flow of any mud and debris that comes down from the Colby fire burn area. In Glendora, the vulnerable area is a roughly three-mile stretch from the city's western border to Loraine Avenue, encompassing about 1,000 homes.

In the Colby fire, some residents ignored warnings and stayed behind to try to beat back flames. But Police Chief Tim Staab urged residents to heed the evacuation orders issued Thursday.

“I understand that when there’s fires, you want to stay behind to try and fight it with a hose,” he said. “However, with mudflow, there’s just nothing you can do. And you put yourself in danger.... It may sound overly cautious on our part, but we just want to make sure everyone’s safe.”

The Grattans said they preferred to play it safe, unlike their elder neighbor. The couple's two daughters, ages 3 and 4, were heading to the grandmother's house in La Verne.

The stronger of two storms is expected to bring the potential for heavy rain through Saturday, with 1 to 3 inches of rain in the coasts and valleys and 3 to 6 inches of rain in the foothills and mountains. Forecasters say thunderstorms are also possible, with damaging winds, small hail and even weak tornadoes possible.

"I feel like we'll be OK, but...you'd feel kind of foolish if something did happen," Grattan said.

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joseph.serna@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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