Preparing for disaster again

LA CRESCENTA — Foothill residents raced to fill up sandbags and construct mud deflectors Tuesday evening as rain poured steadily against hillsides blackened by the Station fire.

Residents braced themselves for the rainfall, which geologists advised could affect burn areas and create devastating debris flows.

Los Angeles County Public Works crews rushed to install K-rails, which are large concrete blocks, in La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta neighborhoods up against Deukmejian Wilderness Park and Angeles National Forest. Officials expect the K-rails to divert the mud away from homes and onto roads.

La Crescenta resident Jim Smiley, his son and father were making a last-ditch effort to protect his home on Freeman Avenue from potential debris flows. They stacked sandbags outside his home.

“I am not concerned for tonight, but when we do get heavy rainfall, we want to make sure we are prepared,” he said.

Manzanita Street resident Lynn Drewe was walking her dog, Baxter, as county crews installed K-rails along Freeman Avenue. Drewe was monitoring the weather conditions, which she said would force her to consider evacuating if they worsened.

La Cañada resident Olivia Brown and her husband spent about $10,000 on materials and equipment to safeguard their home from a burned hillside that abuts her backyard.

Since the fire, Brown has seen landslides daily on the hillside.

Construction crews were at her neighbor Tammy Smith’s home building mudflow walls during the rain. She started reinforcing her home in preparation for winter storms after the fire.

But the rain, she said, came too soon.

“We just needed one more week, and we would have been done,” Smith said.

Sandra Burch has lived in her La Crescenta home for 15 years, but she never thought it could be destroyed until the Station fire.

The fire came dangerously close to her home.

She loaded up on sandbags, and crews were going to install a K-rail in front of her home in preparation for the next potential disaster.

“I am just happy to have a house after all of the fires,” Burch said.

City officials also geared up Tuesday for the long and rainy night ahead, making sure sand was available to residents in the burn areas, reinforcing K-rails on streets and activating an information system for residents.

Glendale park naturalists installed a temporary camera at Deukmejian park, so that it overlooked the foothill neighborhoods and debris basins. The camera will later be replaced with a permanent one.

The camera was among technologies that will be coming to the park to monitor rain and debris flows, said Russ Hauck, senior park naturalist.

The U.S. Geological Survey already installed ground-monitoring equipment, the National Weather Service planned to mount rain gauges, and San Jose State University wanted to set up wind meters to monitor particles in the air, he said.

The city activated its Emergency Operations Center on Tuesday amid National Weather Service warnings of moderate to severe weather conditions for Glendale, La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge beginning Tuesday and lasting until Thursday. Residents in the foothill areas of the three cities are facing the threat of debris flows and flooding as a result of the massive Station fire.

“The city has been working around the clock to try to minimize and mitigate flooding and property damage,” Glendale Fire Capt. Vincent Rifino said.

Officials said a number of criteria would need to be reached in order to trigger a mass notification system to residents.

If more than a quarter-inch of rain falls within 15 minutes, an inch and a half of rain falls in three hours, a continual flow of light rain falls for 12 hours, if spotters notice any debris flows, or if debris basin levels rise, residents in burn areas would be advised to evacuate, Rifino said.

In such an event, the Glendale Civic Auditorium will become an emergency shelter, he said.

Glendale fire, police and Public Works personnel will be patrolling the foothill areas Tuesday night, he said, watching debris and flood channels for blockage.

Glendale Public Works dumped about 8,000 pounds of sand Tuesday morning at Dunsmore Park, and provided bags for residents looking to protect their homes from the effects of the downpour, he said. In addition, Rifino said, the city’s Public Works has dropped off 24,000 pounds of sand at Dunsmore Canyon in the past three days.

Empty sandbags are also available at all Glendale fire stations.

City officials were trying to ensure Glenoaks Canyon residents were also prepared.

“That potential is there,” Rifino said. “Everything was moon-scape on the Glendale side and then we have homes in that canyon that have that potential of getting damaged.”

The Station fire was not the only recent fire to cause mudslide concerns. The Freeway fire blackened 60 acres of steep terrain Aug. 4 in Glenoaks Canyon and came dangerously close to homes.

Filled sandbags were available on Glen Ivy and Waltonia drives for residents in that area, he said.

City officials didn’t expect rain to come this soon, but they began preparing for winter storms before the Station fire ended, Rifino said.

“They city has been definitely gearing up for this,” he said.

 VERONICA ROCHA covers public safety and the courts. She may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at

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