Mudslide fears haunt neighborhoods burned by huge La Tuna fire

Burned hillsides loom over a neighborhood on Wedgewood Lane in Burbank
Burned hillsides loom over a neighborhood on Wedgewood Lane in Burbank
(Tim Berger / Times Community News)

Los Angeles County and federal officials have been busy preparing Burbank residents who live near the Verdugo Mountains hillside for future heavy rainfall, especially in areas that were adjacent to the La Tuna fire, which scorched more than 7,000 acres over Labor Day weekend.

Recently, the Los Angeles County Public Works Department has been sending out engineers to the burn area to survey the hillside and determine where possible mudslides could occur. They also talked with homeowners about what they can do to prevent damage to their homes, said Eric Baumgardner, the emergency management coordinator for Burbank.

“These engineers have gone out and actually met face to face with each of the property owners or the tenants and have given specific engineering, mitigation advice for those specific properties,” Baumgardner said. “So it’s not generic advice. It’s specific to each piece of property based on what the potential is above that particular home.”


Additionally, workers from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture have conducted a similar survey of the hillside. Their focus is on the city-owned infrastructure instead of private property.

Baumgardner said the federal engineers identified Burbank’s potable water tanks, electrical infrastructure, Stough Canyon Nature Center and other park facilities as possible risk areas and advised Burbank officials on what they can do to protect the city’s property from damage by mudslides.

After receiving the feedback from the county and federal agencies, Baumgardner said the city will begin stockpiling materials, such as sand, for when they are needed.

He said the preventative measures were performed by other agencies because of their level of expertise in that field of work.

“When it comes to a mountain like that, with a watershed, you need people who are very familiar and very experienced in that type of area,” Baumgardner said. “They have the expertise to go out and assess the hillside accurately.”

The La Tuna fire, which started on Sept. 1, took about nine days to be fully contained.

Mudslides are commonplace in areas that have been affected by a fire, and Burbank is no exception. Baumgardner said there were mudslides in Burbank after a hillside fire in the 1980s and, more recently, after the Harvard fire in 2005.


“As long as a hillside was burned enough and was denuded, you’re going to have some type of mudslide because there’s no longer a root structure there that will hold back any of the dirt from erosion,” Baumgardner said.

Twitter: @acocarpio