San Diego

Wildfires Leave California Vulnerable to Flooding, Mudslides

Dangerous floods and damaging mudslides may follow in the wake of devastating wildfires in California

As fall wildfires wreak havoc across California, the state's flood management authorities are gearing up for the challenges of a wet winter.

Flooding has the potential to cause even greater damage, and hazardous mudslides could follow rainstorms in the wake of brush fires. Widespread burn areas and so-called "watersheds" are particularly susceptible to mudslides.

Despite looking shallow, flooded roadways can easily pose an unexpected danger to drivers. The exact depth of the water and whether it's safe to drive across can be difficult to predict.

"It only takes about six inches of water to knock you off your feet and not much more, a foot or two of water to float a car and carry it downstream,” warned Mark Seits, who serves on the board of the Floodplain Management Association (FMA). “And we've all seen the news reports, all seen the footage of folks that have been in that situation, standing on the tops of the car."

Flood management directors said they expect vegetation to be well re-established in areas burned in the regional wildfires of 2003 and 2007. But that does not include areas burned by the wildfires of 2014.

If this winter's rainy season loosens a lot of soil and brush, that could create a recipe for flood hazards.

High-category hurricanes are better known in Gulf Coast areas, but there have been heavy downpours in the San Diego region that could generate vast new floodplains.

A few years ago, there was a so-called "thousand-year rainfall event" in the Ramona area.

"Just a tremendous amount of rain fell in a very short period of time,” said Sara Agahi, the flood control manager for the county’s Department of Public Works. “And of course when rain falls in high places, it has to get to low places. And if your house or your business is in between that, the water's going to pass you."

Wednesday marks the midpoint of "Flood Preparedness Week" in California. State authorities advise the public to go online to check out the website.

Visit the app to download all kinds of disaster prevention alerts and safety information.

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