Sunday, December 9, 2007
'reload san bernardino'
That's what a South Ops aviation dispatcher in Riverside calmly told tanker pilots working small fires in the San Bernardino National Forest six days ago. She used the phrase to indicate they should reload retardant at Norton Field in the city of San Bernardino.
On Friday, nature sent a similar message - reload sandbags and k-rail.
by Guy McCarthy
GREEN VALLEY LAKE, Nov. 30 -- Terry Droll reflected on the wind-driven Slide Fire that roared through town in late October, and
considered the steady rains pattering on the roof of his general store Friday morning.
Summing up the past six weeks or so, he stuck to the basics.
"We left about 45 minutes before the firefighters pulled out," Droll said, referring to the night of Oct. 22.
"Some of the firefighters up here are my friends and they knocked on my door about 9:15," Droll said. "I went outside and the winds were blowing 60 miles per hour. We were getting fireballs in the backyard."
The store and his home survived the flames. Droll said he evacuated for 12 days. Now he's preparing for the next potential problem, like so many other Southern Californians.
"The rain is a big concern, because of mudslides and debris flows," Droll said. "That's the next threat."
'THIS RAIN CAUGHT'EM'
Droll, 55, said he's been in Green Valley Lake seven years, long enough to learn some local history.
"This store was built in the '20s, the first commercial structure," Droll said, standing behind a counter where fliers for mountain community meetings were available. "This is the first time fire's come through town, ever."
Many of his neighbors have changed their flood insurance since the October fires, Droll said, gesturing uphill towards a slope behind his store. He brought out fire progression maps, trying to show where post-fire erosion might be a problem.
"This rain here, I think it caught'em a little bit," Droll said. "They weren't expecting this much so soon. They do have plans to bring up k-rail and thousands of sandbags."
Residents of Green Valley Lake know that Burned Area Emergency Response teams have made their town a priority. Workers with heavy machinery had already built up a series of berms to control run-off at one end of the lake. But Droll said he and his neighbors still feel fairly self-reliant.
"We're in tune with nature up here," Droll said. "We call each other in the middle of the night. We know we're the red-headed stepchild on the mountain. Our tax base isn't big enough to compete with Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead."
VULNERABLE HOMES, WATER
In the east end of Green Valley Lake, some homes sat mid-hillside or at the bottom of slopes that were black and greasy in the rain Friday morning.
A few hardy residents worked in the rain with shovels, clearing drainage channels, but most of the town's roads and yards were empty.
Some people had set up low rows of sandbags above their homes. About 10 miles west, more erosion prevention measures were already in place near a Lake Arrowhead country club. Sections of concrete barriers known as k-rail lined vulnerable sections of several roads in and below neighborhoods that burned in the Grass Valley Fire.
The mountain scene close to lakeside burned areas seemed on the surface ideal for ducks. They paddled in the rain Friday morning on at least one of the man-made reservoirs that serve as centerpiece attractions in Green Valley Lake and Grass Valley. From a human perspective, the fog, cold and damp compounded the effect of so many blackened, hillside ruins.
Rivulets of rain water ran through ash, melted synthetic material, and black soil, forming foamy streams and small waterfalls as they descended, carrying sediment and particles of burned homes into the bodies of water. Authorities said more than 400 homes burned in the Slide and Grass Valley fires.
'PUBLIC SAFETY FIRST'
Firefighters, flood control staff and road workers were out in force Friday, said county fire Division Chief Tim Wessel, who was stationed in the city of San Bernardino.
"The number one priority is protecting lives, and so far we're fine," Wessel said about 3:30 p.m. "County flood and county road have extra people out helping Caltrans with rock and mudslides in the mountains -- on the 18 in the Arctic Circle and on Highway 38 above Angelus Oaks.
"We are having a little flooding in the High Desert area, where some newer construction sites are getting their first real test," Wessel said. "We are having some erosion, but no serious property damage."
Wessel expressed empathy for regional neighbors in Orange County, where mandatory evacuations were ordered earlier Friday in Modjeska Canyon and other vulnerable canyon areas that burned in the Santiago Fire. Wessel said that problems were not as severe here in San Bernardino County.
"At this time we are not having any major problems in the burned areas," Wessel said. "We do have rescue units available with swift-water rescue training, if necessary. So far, we're okay."
U.S. Geological Survey study released Tuesday Dec. 4 warns that ash and soils from burned areas across Southern California may adversely affect water quality, human health and endangered species, in addition to posing debris-flow and flooding hazards. Scientists focused initial soil tests on burned home sites in the Grass Valley area near Lake Arrowhead.
Forecasters say rain or snow is possible later this week in the mountain burned areas.