Fighting an uphill battle

LA CRESCENTA — Work on clearing out debris catch basins and flood-control channels kicked into high gear this week as government agencies raced against the clock, preparing the barren hillsides against a wet winter.

Crews began excavating eight debris catch basins along the foothills above La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge, left vulnerable to mudflows and runoff when the Station fire stripped the hills of vegetation.

Dirt-hauling trucks and heavy equipment will be a fixture at sites like the Dunsmore debris basin at Deukmejian Wilderness Park for the next four weeks, said Art Vander Vis, engineer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works Flood Maintenance Division.

Even after the catch basins are cleared out, crews will be standing by to excavate material as soon as new debris reaches 5% of the basins’ capacity, Vander Vis said.

“We’re going to be very busy this winter,” he said.

The debris basins are part of a larger plan to shore up the hillsides, including building barriers to divert rain and mud, and working with the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Forest Service to develop a map of particularly vulnerable areas.

Sandbags will also be available to residents at local fire stations.

And on Wednesday, the Small Business Administration announced plans to open a temporary assistance center in Montrose where property and small-business owners affected by the Station fire can apply for federal disaster loans.

The assistance center, to be at 2937 Honolulu Ave., opens Friday and will remain open as long as there is a need, said spokesman William Koontz .

“Even though the U.S. Small Business Administration has business in its name, we are the federal government’s primary source of disaster funding for individuals like you and me,” Koontz said. “Homeowners and renters are eligible for disaster loan assistance if they have suffered a loss in these fires.”

The Station fire, which continues to burn in remote parts of the San Gabriel Mountains, has destroyed or damaged 102 residential structures and 48 commercial properties, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Most of the property damage occurred in Tujunga Canyon and Acton.

Property owners who suffered serious losses due to the fire can apply for federal loans of up to $200,000, Koontz said, with interest rates as low as 2.75%. The loans can also cover garages, gazebos and pool houses, as well as landscaping.

Renters can also apply for loans of up to $40,000, he added, to help cover the loss of personal possessions, such as a car. And business owners affected by the fire can apply for loans of up to $2 million.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of need for this as the rainy season comes upon us, so this is good news,” Crescenta Valley Town Council President Steve Pierce said.

The Small Business Administration has already issued 40 applications to property and business owners affected by the Station fire, Koontz said, and about a dozen of those are being processed.

The application filing deadline is Nov. 13 for homeowners and June 14 for business owners.

The Station fire was expected to be fully contained Thursday night, but officials warned that dry conditions and high temperatures left open the possibility of flare-ups and delayed containment.

The first of a series of public meetings for homeowners concerned about the effects of the forecasted El Niño winter is at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Center for Spiritual Living, 4845 Dunsmore Ave.

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