Rain Helps With Fires But Causes Mudslides

Rain Helps With Fires But Causes Mudslides

14 July 2008

published by www.washingtonpost.com

USA — Violent thunderstorms Sunday brought rain bursts that modestly helped firefighters battling California’s unfolding wildfire disaster, but the downpours also triggered mudslides.

“If it isn’t fire, it’s flood. If it isn’t fire or flood, it’s the mud,” said Christina Lilienthal, an interagency fire spokeswoman. A “horrendous” amount of precipitation in the Sequoia National Forest dampened the ground but also caused a creek to flood, cutting off a firefighting crew’s escape route when a road washed out, she said.

The firefighters didn’t need the escape route, because fires burning nearby did not threaten them. They moved to higher ground as a precaution against the rising waters, Lilienthal said.

A huge mudslide in an area that was devastated by wildfires last year significantly damaged more than 50 homes and forced the evacuation of those living in them in the California town of Independence on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. Severe thunderstorms Saturday set off the mudslide, which was 300 yards wide and up to three feet deep, said Carma Roper, spokeswoman for the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department.

TheCalifornia Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said 288 blazes were still burning around the state, most in the mountains ringing the northern edge of the Central Valley.

In Washington, 200 residents from Spokane Valley who were forced to evacuate Friday were allowed to return to their homes. Firefighters were mopping up the fire that burned 1.5 square miles and reported it 60 percent contained.

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