By Robin GOLDSWORTHY, Brandon HENSLEY and Mary O’KEEFE
With the sun shining again residents begin to assess mud damage, grateful no lives were lost.
Now that the evacuations have been lifted and the weather, at least through the weekend, looks sunny and clear the task of getting ready for the next storm begins.
“We will be working continually throughout the week and weekend and as long as the sun is shining to clear out roadways and residential areas and to make sure all the debris basins are cleaned out,” said Gary Bozé, spokesman for the Department of Public Works.
Saturday’s rainstorm pelted the area sending mud down local streets and into homes. The devastation that was warned at the many meetings held by public works came to pass.
“We are lucky that no lives were lost,” Bozé said. A large boulder, about the size of a Volkswagen, blocked the Mullally debris basin causing the mud and water to spill over and into the neighborhoods.
“When last I checked [on Tuesday] we had over 900,000 cubic feet of debris,” Bozé said.
That debris is now being trucked to debris landfills in the area. At present public works is using the landfill at Deukmejian Wilderness Park.
“Our director of public works Gail Faber is speaking with Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger to see if we can’t speed up the [process] to free up more landfills,” Bozé said.
Public works will also be replacing and reevaluating the K-rails positions.
“We also learned that cars needed to be off the streets. They were used as battering rams. The debris and water gets behind the cars and the cars ram into the K-rails and move them. The K-rails weigh about two tons each,” he added.
Debris filled with trees, boulders and a variety of garbage traveled down streets from the mountains to below Honolulu Avenue. Saturday morning Ocean View Boulevard was a steady river of sludge. Briggs Avenue below Foothill Boulevard also saw debris and water rushing down to Montrose Avenue. But the most severe damage was above Foothill Boulevard in the Paradise Valley area.
It began with a prediction on Thursday, Feb. 4.
Rain expected Thursday night into Sunday. The rainstorm would drop about a half to one inch of rain in the Crescenta Valley.
“It will be a good soaking,” said Stuart Seto of the National Weather service.
That prediction was adjusted late Thursday as the storm grew in intensity and another storm followed. Indeed the rain came causing burdened debris basins to overflow that in the end left more than 40 homes damaged and nine uninhabitable.
Beginning early on Saturday morning, a flash flood warning for the Station Fire area was in effect, said Curt Kaplan, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “In some areas near the Station Fire the rain rate has been three-tenths of an inch in 15 minutes,” he estimated.
As of 4:20 a.m. the National Weather Service had tracked rainfall rates in Malibu as much as an inch an hour. That storm cell came bearing down on Crescenta Valley, maintaining an unexpected intensity.
Foothill residents woke to mud and debris being carried down local streets. The National Weather Service extended its flash flood warning and reported some rates of rainfall estimated at being over one and half inches per hour. Precautionary preparedness actions including advising residents and motorists in and below recently burned areas to “be alert of flash flooding and debris flows which may block roads and culverts.”
In the foothills, mud and debris had already been carried as far south as Honolulu Avenue and Ocean View Boulevard.
At the top of Ocean View Boulevard, boulders had careened down, smashing into cars and houses. Mud and debris flowed into homes and the powerful current carried automobiles from their driveways.
In the Paradise Valley area of Ocean View, resident Ben Edwards grabbed his video and still cameras to document the flows. He’s heard on camera saying that he barely got out of the way of the rushing water.
Many roads were impassable with sheriffs units being initially dispatched to Ocean View Boulevard and Cross, Los Amigos and Encinitas and Angeles Crest Highway and Harter, all in La Cañada. Though no mandatory evacuations had been issued as of 9 a.m. the units were trying to keep the roads clear for public works.
The evacuation orders covered the same neighborhoods that were ordered to leave during January’s storm. Although last month’s rainstorm did little more than send a few pieces of debris down local streets and fill the debris basins, this storm’s damage was much more severe.
Deputies closed the top of Pine Cone Road in La Crescenta due to the debris that was endangering a residence. The home in the 5600 block butts up against the mountain. The burnt vegetation is an indication just how close the Station Fire came to the home. The entire hillside is barren and, with the rain, had flowed into the driveway and garage.
The city of Glendale closed access to Dunsmore Avenue at Henrietta Avenue to allow public works crews to clean the rocks and other debris that had spilled down from Deukemejian Wilderness Park.
Below Foothill Boulevard, residents in the Montrose Villa complex in the 2800 block of Montrose Avenue heard a loud noise then saw the rush of water early Saturday.
“It looks like the water came up against the wall with [enough force] to knock it down,” said resident Billy Soloman.
Pieces of the cement wall that had once surrounded the pool now littered around the patio area and in the pool.
“Then all this firewood must have been up against the wall on the other side,” he added. Several large pieces of apparent firewood were everywhere including in the pool. There was also debris similar to the mudflow throughout the area.
“When the wall fell and everything went into the pool it created a tidal wave and it went up the wall and down the walkway,” Soloman said.
Los Angeles County Fire Department was called out for two rescues at homes and several people needed to be rescued from vehicles in both La Cañada and La Crescenta.
“We have emergency teams ready and called in others [from various stations] to help,” said Inspector FredStowers.
L.A. County Fire had called in additional hand crews had also been called in to help with the debris and clearing.
A press conference concerning the mudflow and flooding in Crescenta Valley and other areas affected by the Station Fire took place around 5 p.m. Saturday announcing the mandatory evacuation of over 500 homes in the La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge areas, as well as Acton.
“Whenever an evacuation order is given, it is serious,” said L.A. County Fire Chief Michael Freeman. “It is a matter of life and death. We would rather apologize to you because you’re angry and survived than to have be digging through the debris that can become just as hard as concrete looking for someone who chose to stay.”
La Cañada High School was again open as an evacuation center, with accommodations for pets provided on site by the Pasadena Humane Society.
Freeman said 200 additional firefighters had been sent across the areas that needed help. Commander of Sheriff’s Department Arthur Ng said that 90 deputies had also been deployed to ensure safety, and that all stations are on standby.
Officials added that the major debris flow that went down Ocean View Boulevard Saturday morning was expected and that the design of the street was able to hold the debris. Anyone who has not been asked to evacuate was advised to stay home.
But whether or not the debris flow was expected, the destruction was not. La Cañada Mayor Laura Olhasso, after surveying her town’s damage, commented, “Our worst fears were realized. I cannot tell you the devastation you can see…My heart was in the bottom of my stomach.”
Olhasso said 24 properties, including a preschool, were damaged in La Cañada. Nine homes have been red-tagged (meaning unsafe), while four have been yellow-tagged.
At the press conference, Congressman Adam Schiff stressed the importance of keeping everyone safe. “We want to keep it that way,” he said.
Officials noted that the Paradise Valley basin has been badly damaged, and that the California Emergency Management Agency will send in a report next week to see how much aid FEMA will provide.
County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said the situation was “very hard to visualize,” and compared it to the Universal Studios tram tour.
He blamed the U.S. Forest Service for the mudslides and subsequent damage for they way they acted in handling the Station Fire last summer. Antonovich wanted the Forest Service to be a support unit to L.A. County, but they instead played the role of “usurpers.”
“The U.S. Forestry Service policies prevented the Station Fire from being put out immediately because their philosophy is ‘let it burn’ and the County Fire’s philosophy is saving life and property,” he accused.
The brush that burned has allowed for those hills to be prone to sliding during the storms this winter.
Antonovich said the county has specialized helicopters with firefighting equipment, and had a unit in place for the Station Fire, but the Forest Service did not call them. “They wanted to do it on their own, and as a result they helped create this 160,000 acres of devastation which is now causing devastation for the homes along the Foothills,” he said.
The community was greeted with clear skies on Sunday morning as residents and supporters arrived to help with the clean up. Ascending Ocean View Boulevard after passing the sheriff’s barricade, the first thing one noticed was the smell. It was of fresh turned earth, which is fitting considering that everywhere one looked there was dirt, dust and mud carried from the debris basins that overflowed.
Dallas Ross of The Church of Latter-day Saints received a call on Saturday morning that one of the church leaders of his ward needed help. Ross was one of almost 150 members of local LDS Church congregations who helped clean up three devastated La Cañada neighborhoods on Saturday and Sunday.
“We went up to the barricades and parked, then walked into the neighborhoods,” Ross said of the work done on Sunday. “It’s not often we get to leave church early. Our services last about three hours but we cancelled the final two hours.”
They were told that the residents were under a lot of stress and could be short tempered but he found that people were friendly and appreciated their help. He saw that one of the houses had mud that had lifted the garage door up.
“It was so far past the realm of what I thought mud could do,” Ross recalled. For example, he saw mud on the floor at one house. Up close it looked like a smooth dark floor, and he didn’t think it was mud until he stood in it.
“It was not only mud but really thick. I was blown away by how smooth it was.”
Going further north on Ocean View Boulevard into the Paradise Valley section, the devastation was more and more apparent as mounds of dirt had been pushed aside similar to snow drifts created by plows in the winter. But these mounds had tree branches, trash and other debris buried within, a grim reminder of what roared down the boulevard in the early morning hours of Saturday.
“It rumbled like a freight train,” said 18-year Manistee Drive resident Greg Champion. Manistee is one of the hardest hit streets in the area with three houses red tagged as uninhabitable. Champion lives on the north side of the street, which suffered little damage.
Across the street homeowner Pat Anderson, with friends and family, was sifting through her belongings. The front part of her two-story home was destroyed by the rushing mud.
“I didn’t know if I should wait it out or run,” Anderson recalled. She’s lived in the area since 1971, experienced the fire of ’75 and the subsequent flood of ’78. She said that on Saturday morning, having been through this once before, what she heard “was not a good sound.”
After the first flood on Saturday and the collapse of the house, Anderson said that her “hero” arrived, neighbor Steve Brown who lives just below her on Ocean View Boulevard. “He’s my knight in shining armor,” Anderson said. Brown drove quickly up Ocean View, over logs and curbs, to get to her. He got her out of the damaged house and away before the second flood of the morning swept through.
On Sunday, she looked at what remained of her home. Even her car didn’t escape the floodwaters. It was pushed out of her garage, which was closed, and down into the neighbor’s yard below her. That home was also red tagged.
Though her property is devastated, she has no plans to leave. She is the president and CEO of the La Cañada Chamber of Commerce and has built her life in the foothill area.
“This is home – my family and best friends are here,” she said.
Local residents weren’t the only heroes of the day. Steve Brokaw of Malibu arrived early on with food and drink for deputies and anyone who needed something to eat and drink.
“I saw on television what was going on up here and decided to come up,” Brokaw said. He added that after everything the sheriffs did for the Malibu residents during their fires, he wanted to lend a hand in the foothills. He approached Dennis Holmes, manager of Ralphs Market in La Crescenta, asking for help. He quickly got the supplies he wanted.
“He gave me everything I asked for,” Brokaw said. McDonalds in Tujunga and Dominos Pizza also provided food.
Locals were barely dry from the weekend soaking when Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station issued evacuation notices on Monday night via the reverse 911-phone system for homes in La Cañada and La Crescenta. More rain was expected on Tuesday and officials wanted to make sure that no one was going to be injured in the next bout of rain.
The decision to evacuate was made at the executive level by the incident unified command, said Sgt. John Caffrey. The evacuation orders, according to the Los Angeles Public Works website, would be in effect beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9.
“We will begin door to door evacuations at 8 a.m. and would like everyone to be out by then,” Caffrey said.
Another notice was issued concerning parking along the streets of the evacuated neighborhoods. Residents were asked to keep all vehicles and trashcans off the streets to allow debris to flow. The American Red Cross shelter for evacuated residents was established at Holy Redeemer Church in Montrose.
The National Weather Service adjusted its previous weather prediction. “It is more rain than earlier [predicted]. We are now looking at two inches of rain [in the foothills],” said National Weather Service specialist Stuart Seto of Tuesday’s weather.
A flash flood watch was issued for the burn areas through Tuesday night. The rainfall rate was expected to be a half an inch to an inch per hour with possible strong thunderstorms that could bring a heavier downpour with high winds and hail.
“The storm has built up a bit of power,” Seto added. “The heaviest rain will be from Tuesday afternoon through Tuesday night.”
However, residents were spared. According to Nicole Nishida, spokeswoman for the L.A. County Sheriffs Department, “The expected second rain cell that was thought to produce another downpour did not come in as strong as predicted.”
As Wednesday dawned, snow dusted the foothills due to cold temperatures, but heavy rain never hit.
For future information on evacuated residences visit the public work’s website at http://dpw.lacounty.gov and click on latest update C.A.R.E.