The sun rises behind clouds Sunday in Dana Point. Forecasters expect two… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
A weeklong barrage of rainstorms will test repairs to roads, ravines and utility services following the summer's devastating Station fire -- as well as canyon homeowners' patience if the deluge triggers flooding or mudslides, officials said Sunday.
Los Angeles city and county workers positioned concrete barriers around denuded hillsides to steer muddy runoff expected from the first major rainfall since the fire three months ago that wiped out about a quarter of the Angeles National Forest. More than 160,000 acres burned in late August and September, including the upper Arroyo Seco canyon ravines edging such populous hillside communities as La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta.
Light overnight rain tonight is expected to intensify through Tuesday, and a second, wetter storm pushed by 25-mph winds has been forecast to dump as much as four more inches Wednesday and Thursday.
The cumulative pressures of that one-two punch had meteorologists and public works officials worried about extensive flooding in the communities below the Station fire sites.
"If the models are correct and we do get this first inch or so of rain in the basin and higher amounts in the foothills, then the next storm comes in later in the week and produces additional inches, we could really see a significant amount of mudslides and debris flows from the areas burned," said AccuWeather meteorologist Brian Edwards.
Bob Spencer, chief of public affairs for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, said the protective measures are in place and "now it's a bit of a waiting game."
Concrete barriers have been positioned where runoff is anticipated, and 28 debris basins built to catch flowing soil, rocks and uprooted vegetation have been cleaned out ahead of this week's feared inundation.
"We're confident that everything we have in place will work as it's expected to," Spencer said.
Officials were concerned about all neighborhoods within the burn area, but particularly La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge and parts of Sunland and Tujunga, Spencer said.
A mobile Doppler radar unit, one of two in the country that help forecast significant weather events, has been on standby at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank; the department expected to activate its emergency operation center at its Alhambra headquarters today, Spencer said.
The public works department also is reliant on the sandbagging efforts of residents and their knowledge of when to voluntarily evacuate, he said.
Civil rights attorney Bert Voorhees, who lost his Big Tujunga Canyon home to the Station fire, was back in the neighborhood of charred foundations and stone chimneys over the weekend to place a tarp over the bank of a stream that runs through his backyard.
"It'd be good if I didn't have to dig my property out of 10 feet of material," he said of the potential mudslides.
Living temporarily away from the flood-prone area, Voorhees said he felt lucky to be far from the next wallop from Mother Nature. "Anyone who tries to ride out these storms in Big Tujunga Canyon has a death wish," he said.
Still, Voorhees hopes to return to Tujunga and rebuild someday.
"It was an idyllic canyon, incredibly beautiful," he said. "The south canyon wall just blocks all of the light from L.A., and on a good night you can see the Milky Way."
An interagency Foothills Incident Management Team has been drafting plans for more than two months to deal with the expected onslaught of rain.
"We've been walking the neighborhoods, identifying what some at-risk homes were and making sure those residents are informed," said Capt. Mark Savage of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The county hasn't faced a flooding threat on this scale before, he said, "but we're up to the challenge."
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had repair crews poised to deal with any power outages that might result from the storms, said DWP spokeswoman Maychelle Yee.
Although the department has suffered a spate of water-main breaks in recent weeks, Yee said water-distribution equipment wasn't likely to suffer rain damage because storm water drainage is handled by the sanitation network.