Not sand-bagged by rain

The first rainstorm of the season caused plenty of anxiety and dozens of traffic accidents, but no mudslides.

Los Angeles County officials have been warning for weeks of a heightened risk of flooding and erosion in the foothills in the wake of the Station fire. The fire burned 160,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest and blackened the hills above La Cañada, creating perfect conditions for dangerous debris flow.

Engineers from the county’s Department of Public Works have spent the last six weeks working to identify at-risk homes and to develop individual engineering plans for each property. The county also installed 4,400 linear feet of K-rail on several different streets to try and deflect runoff away from homes and into the streets.

As rain began to fall on Tuesday, the anxiety was palpable among property owners within the high-risk zones. The storm, which brought two inches of rain to the city, did not cause any significant erosion, however. Kevin Chun, director of administrative services for the city of La Cañada Flintridge, said the city monitored the situation throughout the week and that as of Wednesday hillsides remained stable.

“We are relying on information from the incident command center for potential mudflows,” Chun said. “As of so far, we have not gotten any information regarding volunteer evacuations or mandatory evacuations I think we are pretty fortunate that the storm was not as intense as some thought it would be.”

Earlier in the week the dark clouds put some local property owners on edge. Agnes Foos, who lives on Los Amigos Street, was at the parking lot on Foothill Boulevard across from City Hall on Tuesday filling sandbags with sand provided by the county. She said she and her neighbors are taking the county engineers’ advice and being proactive about protecting their homes. Some property owners have hired private contractors to build fencing to protect themselves, she added.

“There is an undeveloped hill a couple of blocks away from us that may go in the rain,” Foos said. “And so right now they are putting K-rails on my street. We are in the direct path. It is pretty steep up there. It isn’t as far up as Briggs [Avenue] or some of the other streets, but it is just as serious because of the potential for the landslides.”

Lisa Dupuy said that many of her neighbors in the Briggs Terrace area in La Crescenta have also gone above and beyond what was recommended by the county.

“This is my second load of sandbags. I thought 35 was enough, we need probably 75,” Dupuy said. “We are blocking the driveway because we are on upper Canyonside [Road], maybe 200 yards from the mountain. So it will be coming down our street pretty fast I am envisioning boulders coming through the window and mud covering the floor of my house.”

During the Station fire, Olivia Brown was evacuated from her Paradise Valley home for three days. The fire burned right up to her back property line at the top of Ocean View Boulevard, leaving the steep slope above her house charred and barren. She has spent $10,000 fortifying her home against the threat of mudslides, Brown said. Some of her neighbors, she added, have spent as much as $40,000.

Brown said the city and the county have done a good job of communicating with relevant home owners about the urgency of the threat, as well as outlining what mitigation efforts can be taken to avoid property damage.

“There is only so much people can do, and I think they are doing a great job,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, it is what it is. I have a friend’s house I can go to. We have three dogs, and that makes it a little more difficult. They are my babies.”

Pat Anderson said this is not the first time her neighborhood has been threatened by debris flow. In the early 1970s, she said, the Mullally Basin failed sending thick mud pouring into Paradise Valley. Mud make its way into some homes, she said, and she lost all of her landscaping. That was before La Cañada became a city, she noted, adding that this time around mitigation efforts have been extensive.

“The mood is kind of a tense, wait and see what happens,” Anderson, who is also president and CEO of the LCF Chamber of Commerce, said. “A few of us who lived up here have been through this before. For those of us who have experienced it before, a lot of the mystery is not as high as for those who haven’t been through it before.”

Anderson said property owners and cooperating with each other and the county to avert serious damage.

“Paradise Valley is a very close knit community,” Anderson said. “It is very obvious that neighbors are helping neighbors. It is very reassuring to know that no one is going this alone.

The county has put the K-rails in place, we have put the sandbags in place, and in some cases additional barricades to channel the mudflow into the street and not into properties.”

In La Crescenta, park naturalists installed a temporary camera at Deukmejian Wilderness 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 the technologies that will be coming to the park to monitor rain and debris flows, said senior park naturalist Russ Hauck.

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.

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