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Storm Forecast Brings Fear of Mudslides, Floods Today : Weather: Fire-ravaged areas of Altadena, Malibu and Laguna brace for brief but intense rain that could shift fragile earth.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A wind-swept Alaskan storm is expected to slam into Southern California this morning, dropping rain that could trigger mudslides on fire-ravaged hillsides and churning up waves atop unusually high tides that could cause flooding along the coast.

Forecasters said the storm’s visit will be brief but intense, releasing about half an inch to an inch of rain along the coast and up to twice that much in foothill communities during the day before moving out to the east tonight.

Officials warned that the mudslide threat is greatest where devastating brush fires in October and November stripped slopes of the vegetation needed to hold soil in place during heavy rain. Although grass seed has been sown in the denuded areas, the fledgling plants have yet to take root firmly in many spots.

Areas of particular concern include Altadena, Pasadena, Sierra Madre and Malibu in Los Angeles County and Laguna Beach in Orange County.

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The National Weather Service said residents of farms and country estates below the Marre fire burn area in the Santa Ynez Valley foothills of Santa Barbara County should listen to their radios for possible flash-flood warnings.

“The kind of rain they’re forecasting--a lot in a short time--is the worst kind of rain for this situation because it causes a lot of earth movement,” said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. David Boucher, a shift commander at Station 66 in Altadena. “It’s the kind of rain we don’t want.”

Sandbags are available at all county fire stations, and Boucher said residents have been picking them up at Station 66 since the day the Altadena fire was put out.

“So far, we’ve dispensed about 100,000 bags from this station alone,” Boucher said. “We’ve got 37,000 more on hand right now, and there are more on the way.”

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Officials said firefighters will patrol all the burned areas today, watching for signs of imminent mudslides. “The hazardous spots have all been identified,” Boucher said. “If things get bad enough, we’ll ask people to evacuate.”

He said county camp crews are on standby, ready to move in quickly if needed.

In Laguna Beach, Terry Brandt, the city’s director of municipal services, said officials were getting ready for the storm.

“We’re taking frequent trips through the burned areas to ensure that all the catch basins are free and clear and that everything will function as it’s supposed to function,” Brandt said.

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The National Weather Service said waves up to 18 feet tall, driven by winds gusting up to 45 m.p.h., will pound some Southern California beaches as swells generated by the storm combine with unusually high tides.

The coastal areas of greatest concern are in San Luis Obispo County, especially in the oceanfront communities of Cambria, Cayucos and Morro Bay. Officials said there could also be some minor tidal flooding in Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach.

James McCutcheon, a meteorologist with WeatherData Inc., said showers are likely to start in Los Angeles before dawn, with the heaviest rain during the late morning and early afternoon. The rain should taper off by nightfall, he said, with partly cloudy weather Sunday.


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