After fires, will floods and mud come?

After fires, will floods and mud come?

10 October 2009

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USA — With fire season nearing an end, San Bernardino County officials are looking ahead to potential flooding problems that could occur in areas hit by this year’s blazes.

The county and Yucaipa city officials have already instituted measures to protect residents in Yucaipa and Oak Glen, where hundreds of acres of hillsides were blackened by three fires in late August and early September.

With firefighters still mopping up the Sheep Fire in Wrightwood and Lytle Creek, public works officials have yet to survey those areas. They have been looking at drainage maps, however, said Kevin Blakeslee, deputy director for flood control in the county’s public works department.

So far it doesn’t look like any significant drainages were affected, he said. But county officials will visit the area with a burn area emergency response team from the U.S. Forest Service to see if there is anything to be concerned about.

“Always when you have a fire there’s potential for increased runoff,” Blakeslee said.

In addition to leaving landscapes denuded, when heavy vegetation burns it can leave resins and oils that permeate the soil, Blakeslee said. When rains come, the slickened soil is less able to absorb the water, leading to runoff that could result in flooding, he said.

Shortly after the fires in Yucaipa and Oak Glen county and city public works officials sent out safety assessment teams to check for potential problems.

One possible trouble spot they found was along Oak Glen Road, where crews put down sandbags, installed concrete K-rail barriers and cleaned out culverts.

Another potential concern in Yucaipa is the Fremont Heights Mobile Home Park on Grandview Drive, which sits below a canyon and is vulnerable to runoff from three sides, a city report states.

City officials plan to install 500 feet of concrete K-rail barriers on three sides and clear out drainage pipes and storm drains to handle any increased debris flow.

The county is also washing out culverts, drainage areas and pipes in flood control projects to ensure they are not obstructed, said Roni Edis, a public works spokeswoman.

Yucaipa resident Chuck Petty was relieved to see public works officials surveying the creek near his property, where a recent fire burned.

“I was gratified they were so quick to respond,” Petty said.

He remembers the last time the creek behind his property flooded in 1993 after a wildland fire.

“We just don’t want a reoccurrence of that,” he said.

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