Wicked Wildfires with Wet Weather…Watershed Woes
Wicked wildfires and frightful floods are a natural and challenging part of the ecological cycle here in California. Fire is essential in Mediterranean ecosystems with certain species of native plants needing fire to guarantee their existence. All too often, however, these fires take place in the fall when the flames are fanned by fierce Santa Ana winds that hauntingly howl through our canyons. These fires leave behind ashy moonscapes and barren areas of land devoid of vegetation. It is these desolate landscapes onto which winter’s first raindrops fall, and while rain is always welcomed here in Southern California, vast areas without groundcover mixed with heavy rain produces a new threat – mudslides. The fact that a high percentage of Los Angeles neighborhoods are within the Wildland Urban Interface (or WUI) – areas where homes meet forest or wildland – California’s fire and flood cycle presents homeowners with added challenges.
The recent Station Fire vividly demonstrated the devastating impact that fire can have here in the Southland. It claimed two lives, destroyed dozens of homes and scorched a staggering 250 square miles in the foothill communities of La Canada-Flintridge, Altadena, Pasadena and Angeles National Forest. The next challenge we face with an El Niño winter predicted is the increased potential for flooding and mudslides. Barren hillsides and increased rainfall create a calamitous combination for destructive debris flows that can threaten communities, clog our storm drain system and create flooding in LA’s watersheds.
In September, Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams from the U.S. Forest Service assessed the burn area and its potential for mudslides. The LA Times reported that scientists’ concern revolves around a process called “entraining” which is when rain falls on bare ground and washes away topsoil, sand, small rocks and burned plant material creating an unstoppable avalanche.
“As a result of the recent wildfires there will likely be a larger than normal quantity of debris and pollutants captured by our storm drains this winter,” says Robert Potter, with the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation. He adds, “In preparation for this season’s rain, all City-owned catch basins and debris basins have been cleaned to minimize the possibility of flooding. Sanitation crews will be ready to respond to storm-related emergencies should they occur.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) issued a study stating that rainstorms could cause massive debris flows in our local waterways with even the slightest rain falls in the San Gabriel mountains this winter.
“We have calculated really high probabilities of really big flows,” said Susan Cannon, a geologist for the USGS. “Some of the areas burned by the Station Fire show the highest likelihood for big debris flows I’ve ever seen.”
Although the Station Fire has ceased, LA’s fire season is far from over and our rainy season is just beginning. Residents can do their part to prepare.
Fire Preparedness and Prevention:
- Develop a home fire evacuation plan and discuss it with your family.
- Create a defensible space around your home. Manage the vegetation surrounding your property by removing dead plants and maintaining a 200 foot perimeter between structures and foliage.
- Keep rooftops and gutters free of flammable debris such as leaves or pine cones.
- Heed evacuation order when issued by authorities.
Flooding Preparedness and Prevention:
- Remove or secure loose debris on your property to prevent it from entering our waterways.
- Avoid outdoor watering on rainy days to conserve water and prevent street flooding.
- Use sand bags to direct mud flows away from property.
While the fires and floods here in Southern California are part of a natural cycle we have little control over, we can prepare and minimize their potentially devastating impacts. “The City is a partner with residents,” Potter said. “Together we can promote public health and safety during LA’s fire and flood season.”
For information about fire prevention tips:
Public Works Department Residential Advisory Site: http://dpw.lacounty.gov/care/
City of LA Fire Department: http://lafd.org/
US Forest Service: http://www.fs.fed.us/fire/prev_ed/prevention/index.html
LA County Fire Department: http://www.fire.lacounty.gov/
For information about the connection between fires, flooding and water quality:
Los Angeles Times: Concerns rise about mudslides in areas burned by Station Fire
National Public Radio: Long Recovery in Store for Scorched Calif. Hillsides
- Best Management Practices (26)
- Contests (30)
- Events (67)
- Green Streets (4)
- Guest Posts (20)
- LA Sanitation News (3)
- Low Impact Development (70)
- Pet Owners (10)
- Prop O Projects (27)
- Rain Barrels & Cisterns (15)
- Stormwater News (50)
- Stormwater Programs (5)
- Stormwater Projects (5)
- Uncategorized (1)
- Watersheds (30)
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- January 2010
- December 2009
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009
- August 2009
- July 2009
- June 2009
- May 2009
- April 2009
- March 2009
- Clean Water Virtual Scavenger Hunt: Question 1 (55)
- Get Creative and Score a FREE T-Shirt! (47)
- Name that Animal and Score – Some Original LA River Artwork! (36)
- Name What’s Wrong With This Photo and Win 4 Tickets to the Aquarium of the Pacific! (36)
- Clean Water Virtual Scavenger Hunt: Question 2 (35)
- Clean Water Virtual Scavenger Hunt: Question 3 (32)
- LA Stormwater Video Trivia (27)
- Sea Life Trivia Contest (25)
- It’s Pet Trivia Time! (20)
- LA County Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure (18)
- LA Stormwater: A big thank you to everyone who participated in our spring gardening tips contest. We loved all the great ideas ...
- Christy Martens: After fighting with squirrels and crows that would dig up my seedlings in my veggie garden, I found that reused ...
- Chris Anthony: After experiencing the destruction of grasshoppers in my vegetable garden I taught my cats to hunt and catch them. They ...
- Melanie Winter: Hi Geoff - We based our basic design on the work of the city of Tuscon's Watershed Management Group, where they've ...
- Geoff: Hi Melanie, Great article and its refreshing to hear what you are doing and what you've already done in ...
- Sandra DeSimone: In our garden, we make sure to always have something in bloom, so that we never need to use pesticides ...
- Sandra DeSimone: We mulch all the trees around the campus at the school I work at so that it keeps the trees ...
- Melanie Winter: Hi Rick - Pleased to meet you, too. Hooray for the early adopters! The good news is that if you're within ...
- Melanie Winter: Hi Lee! Thanks for your kind words. Do check out the new greywater permit, I think you'll be pleased - it's ...