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Scorched Hills Pose Mudslide Danger, Farm Manager Says : Sylmar: Public Works officials say the area burned last month is prone to floods. They insist the potential for disaster is no worse now.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Blades of buffalo grass and shoots of small shrubs are slowly emerging on the fire-scorched hills above Sunset Farms in Sylmar.

It’s a promising sign, but farm manager Caroline Sutherland fears the new growth may not be enough to prevent mudslides in a heavy rain.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll get a few minor rains and growth on the hills well before the major rains, but who knows, Mother Nature is fickle that way,” Sutherland said.

Last month, a 760-acre fire charred the San Gabriel Mountains to within 100 feet of the Sunset Farms picnic grounds.

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U.S. Forest Service helicopters began reseeding the mountain Nov. 27, two days after the fire, said Carla Van Dyne, forestry spokeswoman. They sprinkled 1,000 pounds of grass seed on the mountain above the picnic grounds. Cucamunga Brome, a native grass on the mountain, is drought-tolerant and reproduces quickly, which makes it ideal, Van Dyne said.

Officials from the flood control division of the County Department of Public Works said Sunset Farms is always prone to floods or mudslides and the potential for disaster is no worse now than in any other year.

“Due to the nature of vegetation, any area in the San Gabriel foothills is threatened by mudslides due to rain. If she didn’t have a threat before, she doesn’t need to lose sleep because of this fire,” said Keith Tang, supervising civil engineer for the department.

Such reassurances are of little consolation to Sutherland. She said she has started to build barriers of telephone poles and has requested sandbags from the Fire Department.

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Sutherland, who has lived on the property all her life, said the last time the hillside was burned this badly was in 1961. Downpours after that fire triggered mudslides.

“When you’ve lived on the property for 45 years, you pretty much know where the water will flow,” she said.


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