Residents of Bay Area fire zones brace for mudslides as expert warns of potential danger

Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Bracing for mudslides in Bay Area fire zones
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People living in Bay Area regions with burn scars from this year's wildfire season, are in a race against the clock. This time it's not flames they're concerned about, but storm-induced mudslides.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Around the Bay Area Monday, there were many races against time and the coming rain, from workmen finishing roofs, to homeowners clearing out rain gutters.

We saw both in the Skyhawk neighborhood of Santa Rosa where, on the hills above the homes, burn scars from the Glass Fire will take years to heal.

This winter, they pose a particular danger.

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"There is no way to stop a mudslide," warned Dr. Laura Sullivan-Green, who runs the Civil Engineering department at San Jose State University. She specializes in soils, and spent today reinforcing the post-fire dangers that forced evacuations in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Those same coming rains, have people worried in the North Bay.

"I mean luckily there is some distance between here and there," said Nathan Solomon as he walked his dogs though Skyhawk this afternoon.

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He thought he had lost his home when flames roared through the region last fall. Now, he has an opposite worry from, not fire, but water bringing mud.

"You know we had a fair amount of growth since the fire. Everything is green now, at least," Solomon said.

"When we see a slow start it does help these areas," said Dr. Sullivan-Green, but maybe not enough.

Hot and sustained fire changes the chemical composition of soil. It does not hold water as easily.

LIVE: Track the rain with Live Doppler 7

The Santa Rosa Fire Department will open its Emergency Operations Center Tuesday, and has blocked off some areas for fear of debris flow.

"Even before the rains, we had concerns about people in here," said Assistant Fire Marshall Paul Lowenthal.

"You cannot outrun a mudslide or debris flow," restated Dr. Sullivan-Green.

"They are just too fast. By time you realize it is coming, it is too late to get out."

There is no reassurance in that.