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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Wet Weather Brings Threat of Slides to Charred Hills

Storms: With 3-4 inches of new rain, season totals exceed normal in some areas. More showers are forecast, and officials warn of possible flooding.

February 13, 2001|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A three-day storm has pushed Ventura County rainfall totals past normal for the season, and forecasters predicted Monday that continuing showers could threaten low-lying Ojai Valley communities, fire-charred hills near Thousand Oaks and other flood-prone areas before skies clear Wednesday night.

About 3 inches of new rain had fallen in some coastal cities and nearly 4 inches in the mountains above Ojai by late Monday, prompting the National Weather Service to issue flood advisories in areas such as Thacher and San Antonio creeks near Ojai.

The county Flood Control District assigned monitors to gauge stream levels overnight and this morning, when a downpour is expected. The weather service predicted that at least 2 more inches would fall before the storm ends. Still more rain is expected by Sunday.

In mountain back country, snow levels were expected to drop to 4,000 feet and reach depths of 4 feet by tonight.

The California Highway Patrol reported nearly 100 local traffic collisions between 6 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Monday. A recycling truck overturned Monday morning on California 118, closing that busy commuter roadway near Somis.

Local farm officials reported no significant crop damage. But a supervisor in an Oxnard field displayed rotting strawberries and said perhaps a third of his crop was lost in the weekend rains.

After an unusually dry autumn, a month of off-and-on rain has now nearly saturated the soil, officials said.

"We are getting close to the saturation point in some places," county hydrologist Dolores Taylor said. "We're getting to the point where if we get another storm, there will be higher than moderate runoff. Then roads get damaged, and all heck breaks loose."

Residents of Ojai Valley neighborhoods that have flooded repeatedly over the years said the latest rains are nothing to be concerned about. Not yet.

"At this point, the creeks are well down," said Mark Ditchfield, a resident on Avenida De La Vereda, near Thacher Creek in east Ojai. "I think we could handle it. It's a valley. We have water that runs at us from all directions."

As the storm continued through Monday, rainfall totals at the County Government Center reached 2.90 inches for the long weekend and 10.42 inches for the season--about half an inch above normal.

At Matilija Dam, the storm had dropped 3.86 inches, bringing the total slightly above the average 16.38 inches for this time of year. Santa Paula apparently got the most rain of any local city, 3.67 inches, and also exceeded seasonal norms.

Those totals were tabulated up to 3 p.m. Monday, the latest available from the flood control district because of equipment failure.

County officials had no rainfall totals for most local cities after 8 a.m. Monday. However, over the weekend Fillmore received 2.44 inches, Ojai 2.31 inches, Thousand Oaks 2.01 inches, Saticoy 2 inches, Camarillo 1.55 inches and Simi Valley 1.28 inches.

The latest storm hit Saturday afternoon on the heels of a much lighter storm Friday night. Weather officials issued a marine warning to boaters when a water spout was reported about 10 miles southwest of Point Mugu.

Today will remain wet and blustery, with temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to the mid-40s overnight.

In addition to creek-side flooding in the Ojai Valley, that area could be in jeopardy if a heavy downpour flushes debris from hills denuded by the 1999 Ranch fire and clogs creeks, Taylor said.

There is also a threat of flooding and mudslides in Thousand Oaks, because December's 600-acre fire above North Ranch charred hills and left them without plants to hold the soil in place.

The county Fire Department is offering sandbags to worried residents, but none had asked for any by Monday afternoon, Battalion Chief Keith Gurrolla said.

"I think people are prepared already," Gurrolla said. "Most know the potential is there. People have their supplies already on hand."

*

Times correspondent Holly Wolcott contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

County Rainfall

Here are rainfall figures from the Ventura County Flood Control District for the 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m. Monday. Oct. 1 is the beginning of the official rain year.

*--*

24-hour rain to Rainfall Percent of Normal 8 a.m. since normal rainfall Location Monday Oct. 1 rainfall to date Camarillo 0.76 6.72 81% 8.27 Casitas Dam 1.55 13.86 96% 14.45 Casitas Rec. Center 1.18 14.08 98% 14.44 Fillmore 1.64 11.29 97% 11.70 Matilija Dam 2.42 16.26 99% 16.38 Moorpark 0.52 6.74 75% 8.98 Ojai 1.42 12.22 94% 12.97 Upper Ojai 1.50 14.58 104% 14.00 Oxnard 0.60 7.21 81% 8.90 Piru 1.20 7.31 70% 10.49 Port Hueneme 0.13 5.54 63% 8.74 Santa Paula 2.25 11.41 105% 10.88 Simi Valley 0.75 7.52 87% 8.65 Thousand Oaks 1.65 7.42 80% 9.33 Ventura Govt. Center 2.23 10.22 104% 9.84

*--*

Source: Ventura County Flood Control District

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