Officials prepare for mudslides as heavy rain moves across L.A. region

The second of two winter storms this week delivered on a promise of heavy rainfall as it moved across the region Friday, and hundreds of residents waited to see if their homes would escape feared mudslides within mandatory evacuation zones below the San Gabriel Mountains.

The strongest rain was expected later in the morning through Friday afternoon as a cold front makes landfall, producing more unstable weather, said Kathy Hoxsie of the National Weather Service in Oxnard.


The region has already seen significant rainfall overnight. Between 4 a.m. Thursday and 4 a.m. Friday, most areas in Los Angeles County had seen half an inch or more of rain. In parts of Ventura County, the rain was heavier.

"We just went out and checked our bucket, and just since midnight we've had 1.33 inches, so it's pretty crazy," Hoxsie said.

Anticipating heavy runoff, officials have been scrambling for days to prepare for possible mudslides in areas left bare by recent wildfires.

Up to 1,000 homes in the area affected by the Colby fire in Azusa and Glendora are under a mandatory evacuation order amid fears that mud and debris could inundate their homes. The Glendora Police Department urged residents to leave, warning that they faced “injury and/or death.”

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 vegetation.

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

In 1969, massive muslides that came after a wildfire the year before destroyed 200 homes and killed 34 people.

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

Keenly aware of that disaster, workers have been erecting barriers to direct the flow of any mud and debris that comes down from the Colby fire burn area. In Glendora, the vulnerable area is about a three-mile stretch from the city's western border to Loraine Avenue.

Most residents in the Glendora and Azusa evacuation zones cleared out Thursday during a midday break between the two storms. That group included Chris Grattan, 35 and his wife and their two young daughters.
"I feel like we'll be OK, but ... you'd feel kind of foolish if something did happen," he said as he packed the family minivan.
But others decided to defy the orders, fortifying their homes in the hopes of riding out the storm.
Tony Ramirez, 71,  said he and and his son picked up two truckloads of sandbags Wednesday night. He was up at 5 a.m. Thursday and headed to Home Depot to buy plywood. Then he built barriers to try to channel mud and water away from his home.

After that, it was time for a grocery run: Bread, fruit and two containers of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream.

"I got four one-gallon jugs of white wine in the garage," he added. "I don't know if it's good."

Ramirez said that if he and his dog, Cookie, cannot ride out the storm with his supplies, he parked his truck nearby just in case he needs to escape.