Treasures of the Valley

The 1978 Pinecrest Mudslide – Part 3

In the last couple of weeks I wrote about the Genofile family, and their dramatic brush with death during a massive mudflow. In February 1978, the fire-swept hillsides above the Pinecrest development had cut loose during heavy rains. The “debris slug,” a destructive mix of water, mud and rocks, had raced down Pine Cone Road in the middle of the night, carrying cars parked on the street ahead of it. The Genofile house at the bottom of Pine Cone Road was inundated, but on the road above them there were other dramatic events.

Above the cul-de-sac at the top of Pine Cone Road was Shields Canyon Debris Basin. It had completely filled with mud and rocks from a series of storms that were hitting LA. A big cloudburst at 1:30 a.m. sent a big wall of mud and rocks down Shields Canyon. It went right over the dam of the debris basin, and continued down Pine Cone Road. The noise must have been tremendous as gigantic boulders bounced heavily in the churning mud.

A Mrs. Barr at 5448 Pine Cone Road heard her daughter scream, which was drowned out by the roar of the debris slug speeding by. In the blackness, she stepped out her front door and fell into a hole where her front yard had been. Her neighbor, Charles Hall at 5438, was on his front porch watching the rain. He watched helplessly as his car, along with two others, vanished down the street in front of the mud wall. The mud and rock, now churning with cars, slalomed down the steep curving road, hitting houses with glancing blows before finally slamming into the Genofile house at the bottom of the road.

The passing debris slug had severely damaged a dozen houses along Pine Cone Road. Several homes that fronted Pine Cone Road had their front yards scoured away. The house at 5564 Pine Cone Road was filled four feet deep with mud. Backyard swimming pools of some houses were completely filled with mud. A house off Pine Cone, at the end of Pinelawn, received mud from one of the side canyons above the Pinecrest development. Mud and rocks blocked the doors of their house and the family was trapped inside.

It must have been terrifying for the residents of Pinecrest; in the darkness just after the 1:30 a.m. flood they had no idea if more was coming. At 2 a.m., sheriff cars roamed the dark streets. Over their loudspeakers they urged residents to evacuate. Most stayed and some wouldn’t have been able to negotiate the rock covered streets if they wanted to leave. Any car that had been parked on the street on Pine Cone Road was gone, swept down to the Genofile house and piled against the front of their house or strewn in their backyard.

In the morning, dazed residents came out onto the street to survey the rock-covered streets, the damage to their homes and to the homes of neighbors. It was not just homes along Pine Cone Road that had been hit, but several homes facing tributary canyons, such as Eagle and Goss, had also been damaged. A few residents whose homes were now uninhabitable made the trek down the hill to Crescenta Valley High School, where an emergency evacuation center had been set up.

Help streamed up Rosemont, La Crescenta and Ramsdell avenues. Utilities’ crews struggled to restore power, water and gas to Pinecrest. Bulldozers and backhoes were trailered up by county crews and private contractors to begin clearing the streets. Many Crescenta Valley residents walked up the hill with shovels in hand to volunteer to dig out homes hard hit. Even a German shepard that had been washed down the hill from his Pinecrest yard returned home that morning.

The most important task though was being swiftly performed by County Flood Control crews who attacked with backhoes and dump trucks the Shields Canyon Debris Basin that had overflowed the night before, trying to ready it for any following storms.

Next week I’ll cover damage from this 1978 storm in surrounding communities.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical
Society of the Crescenta Valley
and loves local history.
Reach him at