MALIBU (CBSLA) – A storm front moving into the Southland Wednesday could bring the potential for mudslides to the scorched Woolsey and Hill fires burn area in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, posing complications for city agencies and utilities working around the clock to repair infrastructure that has been damaged or decimated by the wildfires.
According to the National Weather Service, rain totals of anywhere from 0.2 to 0.7 of an inch are forecast from Wednesday afternoon into Thanksgiving morning, bringing with it the possibility of rock and mud flows due because of the loosened soil and debris caused by the fires.
Pacific Coast Highway and canyon roads in the Malibu area could see closures or significant delays. Malibu Creek is also an area of concern.
While the rain is expected to be light or moderate, it could cause serious mudslides under the right conditions.
“We have teams out in the field right now that are assessing the burn areas,” Ventura County Public Works Director Jeff Pratt said at a meeting Monday night. “We haven’t been able to get up into the Malibu canyons yet because it hasn’t been safe. One of the areas we’re most worried about just down the road, Little Sycamore Canyon. You know these canyons are gonna melt if we get the right rain.”
“I’m worried about the rain ruining whatever might be left, that I won’t ever find it,” Malibu resident Shari Bernath told CBS2.
Residents who have just returned home in the burn areas will want to prepare by picking up free sandbags at any L.A. or Ventura County fire station.
As of Tuesday morning, the Woolsey Fire was 96,949 acres in size and was 96 percent contained. It has destroyed at least 1,500 structures and damaged 341 others. Three people have been killed and three firefighters injured. Full containment, which had been slated for Monday, has been pushed back to Thursday.
All lanes of the Pacific Coast Highway were reopened Tuesday, and while almost all evacuation orders were lifted, there were still several road closures north of the PCH, including Mulholland Highway, Kanan Dume Road and Malibu Canyon, Latigo Canyon, Encinal Canyon, Corral Canyon, Ramirez Canyon and Puerco Canyon roads.
The Woolsey Fire broke out around 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 8 in the area of Alfa Road and East Street, south of Simi Valley. On Nov. 9, it jumped the south side of the 101 Freeway at Chesebro Road near Calabasas and began spreading into Malibu.
The cause is under investigation.
The 4,531-acre Hill Fire, which broke out Nov. 8, was fully contained on Friday. The blaze broke out at around 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 8 in the area of Hill Canyon and Santa Rosa roads in the Santa Rosa Valley, just west of California Lutheran University. Investigators believe it was human-caused.
In preparation for rain officials in L.A. and Ventura counties have transitioned into emergency response mode, with an emphasis on debris, flood fighting and support activities, including the monitoring of all flood facilities and equipment, the operation of debris dams and providing logistics support, field operations and responses in emergencies.
Meanwhile, hundreds of utility and public safety personnel have been working to repair damaged infrastructure. A large portion of the city of Malibu was without power Monday for a planned, daylong outage to allow crews to replace destroyed and damaged power poles and string new electrical lines.
Disaster Assistance Centers were opened to help residents affected by the blaze. They will be closed Thanksgiving but reopen Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. They are located at the former Malibu Courthouse at 23525 Civic Center Way, and at the Conrad L. Hilton Foundation, 30440 Agoura Road, in Agoura Hills.
Malibu schools were expected to remain closed at least through the Thanksgiving weekend. Officials of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District said specialists will begin cleaning the schools so they are ready to reopen after the holiday.
In January, mudslides in the Santa Barbara County enclave of Montecito killed at least 21 people and destroyed more than 100 homes. Two children remain missing. The mudslides came about one month after the Thomas Fire, then the largest fire in California history, which broke out in Santa Paula. The blaze leveled at least 750 homes.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)