Saturday, December 19, 2009

slope stability

HOLLYWOOD - A chunk of hillside gave way this morning in a neighborhood near the Hollywood Bowl, triggered by a broken pipe, a sprinkler system, or saturation from recent rains, according to Los Angeles Fire Department officials.

The slide dumped 10 to 15 cubic yards of mud and dirt onto Los Tilos Road and moved a parked sport utility vehicle a short distance but it damaged no homes.

Whatever triggered the slide, water ran freely from a ruptured pipe on the slope for at least two hours after the slide was reported.

The slide in the 7000 block of Los Tilos Road occurred about 5:30 a.m., Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said.

Linda Chapman, 63, of Roseville, was staying in her father's former home on Los Tilos Road. She said a crashing sound awoke her and she thought it was a car wreck. When she looked outside, she saw a mound of soil and vegetation piled up against a red Jeep Grand Cherokee, which was pushed onto a sidewalk.

"I woke up my husband," she said. "I thought it was a car crash."

Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Robert Rosario said the slide appeared to have been triggered by a broken water line or a sprinkler system that might have been inadvertently left on all night.

Humphrey said it appeared a 1-inch PVC pipe, possibly a private irrigation line, ruptured. But he also raised the possibility the line may have broken as a result of the slide, rather than being the cause of it.

Rosario estimated the slide at 10 to 15 cubic yards of material. By about 6:30 a.m., firefighters thought they had stopped the flow of water, but that apparently was not the case.

The slide affected access to about two dozen homes, Humphrey said. That section of the road was closed. Stranded residents were taking taxis from the clear section of the road, Humphrey said.

A Building and Safety inspector at the scene said he was considering "yellow-tagging" a downslope home.


On scene reporting and photos by Guy McCarthy. More images here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

san gabriel storm

Cucamonga and neighbors 8:25 a.m. Sunday

Runoff from Arroyo Seco emerges from Devil's Gate 7:02 a.m. Sunday

Devil's Gate dam keeper's tower 6:58 a.m. Sunday

Arroyo Seco with JPL and burned slopes in distance 6:55 a.m. Sunday

Dawn from Angeles Crest Highway below closure 6:23 a.m. Sunday

Ducks on Arroyo Seco north of Devil's Gate 8:14 a.m. Saturday

Debris flow on Angeles Crest Highway 7:21 a.m. Saturday

More images here.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

snow burn

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST - Snow on higher elevations in the Station Fire burned areas this winter will be a concern only when it melts - whether by direct sun or warm rains.

"It's all a concern when it turns to water," said Forest spokesman Stanton Florea. "This is a typical snowfall for this time of year. Our biggest three months for precipitation in order are January, February and March. This is just the beginning."

In the meantime the sight of white snow on denuded brown and black mountainsides this morning was striking, and traffic on the Angeles Crest Highway was minimal. There was ice on many of the shaded curves but the road was open beyond Newcomb's Ranch.

More images are here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

arroyo negro

DEVIL'S GATE - The Arroyo Seco was running black today.

From the top of Devil's Gate Dam, dark mud and water ran south out of the San Gabriel Mountains and the Station Fire burned areas, through the dam works to eventually meet the Los Angeles River.

Barbara Ellis, 60, was walking her Australian shepherd Abby, and she described what she saw after a downpour today as a tragedy. From the crest of Devil's Gate she looked down at the blackness moving towards the dam.

"I was watching the little cliffs of mud and ash collapsing with a splash, and thinking of the movie '2012,' " Ellis said. "It's a film about the end of the world. I'm afraid this looks a little like the end of the world, in miniature."

Ellis said she could smell an "acrid, smokey smell, straight from the fire" coming off the water and mud running through the Devil's Gate works to emerge in a jet stream headed south.

"The Arroyo Seco's been my favorite place to walk since I came here 10 years ago," Ellis said. "This Station Fire is a major tragedy. It's destroyed habitat that will take 70 years to recover in some cases.

"Now we see the mud and ash coming down and choking off the existing life down here," she said. "It's backed up Flintridge Creek, the drainage that comes off the Verdugo Hills."

Los Angeles County public works officials spent several days in November cleaning out floating debris that washed into the reservoir, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Layers of black ash and mud were still visible today, possibly from the unexpected storm in mid-November that unleashed debris flows above Ocean View Boulevard in La CaƱada-Flintridge, Ellis said.

"All this blackness didn't come down here today," Ellis said. "You can see layers of it collapsing into the runoff now. It's like oil in a way. Such a shame."

A video of the runoff emerging from Devil's Gate is posted here. More photos are posted here.


Monday, November 30, 2009


The editor of LA Observed was kind enough to post this image late Sunday. When I initially shared the image I neglected to point out I was in south Riverside when I took it. Click on the image to see it larger.

The photo is named for Cucamonga Peak, the highest in the image. From LA it has a distinctive profile that sets it apart from others on the range front.

According to "Trails of the Angeles" author John W. Robinson the word "cucamonga" is derived from Shoshone for "sandy place" or "place of many springs." There is also a story about a chief sending his wayward daughter to the summit to serve penance for what he perceived to be passionate misdeeds. I'm not sure where that one comes from.

Cucamonga Peak and the Cucamonga Wilderness, designated wilderness by Congress in 1964, are part of the San Gabriel Mountains. But due to federal mapping of the local mountain forests, the east San Gabriels are considered part of the San Bernardino National Forest. The border between the Angeles and SBdo forests is at the LA-San Bdo county line, and one of the trailheads for Cucamonga Peak is just outside Baldy Village above Claremont.

Robinson in his wisdom makes the range whole again by including the east San Gabriels in "Trails of the Angeles."

Watershed News has been mentioned on LA Observed before. Here's a list from the site's search engine. It's about time I said a proper thank you.

According to the site, "LA Observed is an award-winning website devoted to independent reporting, informed commentary and selective linkage on the Los Angeles region and the news media. The site went live in May 2003 and is read daily by an elite audience of journalists, executives, government officials, politicians, authors, bloggers and others interested in the public life of Los Angeles."

The LA Observed post for this image is here.

Watershed News is now pleased to offer prints of any image you find on this site, aside from the few courtesy photos shared by others. If you are looking for affordable Christmas gifts this year, consider giving an image taken by an award-winning journalist. See my profile for a brief mention of awards. If you don't find an image here on this site that suits you, there are others on my flickr stream.

Even if you find the images to be average at best, you can always justify the affordable cost by knowing you are helping finance a site that up to now has been strictly non-profit. Did I say "affordable" enough times? Good. Contact me at if you are interested.


Here's another image from this afternoon:

From San Timoteo Canyon near the junction with Live Oak Canyon, east Redlands, San Bernardino Peak, Yucaipa Ridge, and San Gorgonio high country were visible this afternoon. The high mountains were shrouded in storm clouds all day Sunday.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

wet forecast

Station Fire burned area courtesy NASA/JPL/Caltech

By Guy McCarthy

A Pacific storm is expected to bring the first widespread rains to southwest California since the Station Fire burned 250 square miles in the San Gabriel Mountains above Los Angeles in August and September, according to the National Weather Service.

A strong storm system - especially for October - will begin moving into northern and central California late Monday, and "considerable remnant moisture from former western Pacific Typhoon Melor is expected to be pulled into this system," according to a special weather statement issued this afternoon by Oxnard-based forecasters.

Lower Big Tujunga Canyon on Oct. 1

As of Sunday afternoon, the storm appeared to be bringing significant rainfall to southwest California, along with the possibility of mud and debris flows across recent burn areas, the Weather Service stated.

The heaviest rainfalls over Ventura and Los Angeles counties can be expected Tuesday night and Wednesday, with preliminary estimates of 2 to 4 inches in the foothills and mountains. Locally higher amounts are possible in mountain areas, according to the Weather Service.

Along with heavy rainfall, strong southeast to south winds Tuesday and Wednesday may bring gusts up to 55 mph in some mountain areas.

Detail map of burn areas including portion of Station Fire,
courtesy Los Angeles County Department of Public Works

"With the expected heavy rainfall across Southern California, there will be a threat of flash flooding and debris flows near recent burn areas," the Weather Service stated. "Flash flood watches for the burn areas may be issued within the next 24 hours."

Residents of southwest California, especially those with property in and around recently burned areas, should stay tuned to weather forecasts and statements as this Pacific draws closer to the region, the Weather Service advised.

Rainstorms this year in the area burned by the Station Fire have the potential to trigger debris flows that may impact neighborhoods at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, as well as areas in Big Tujunga Canyon, Pacoima Canyon, Arroyo Seco, West Fork of the San Gabriel River, and Devils Canyon, according to an assessment released five days ago by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Triggered by storm rainfall, debris flows can travel faster than a grown person can run, creating a dangerous situation that may occur with little to no notice, according to USGS Research Geologist Susan Cannon. The powerful force of rushing water, soil, and rocks can destroy culverts, bridges, roadways, and structures and can cause injury or death.

The USGS assessment found that some watersheds in the Station Fire burn area could generate debris flows containing up to 100,000 cubic yards of material — large enough to cover an American football field 60 feet deep with mud and rock.

The deadly debris flows that occurred following the 2003 Old and Grand Prix fires in San Bernardino County are an example of what could happen this year in or below Station Fire burned areas, according to the USGS.

"People may remember that 16 people were killed by debris flows during the Christmas Day storm in 2003, but few realize that those were only two debris flows out of the hundreds that were triggered from the burned area," Cannon said.

"Nearly every burned watershed produced destructive debris flows or floods in response to that storm," Cannon said. "Some of the areas burned by the Station Fire show the highest likelihood for big debris flows that I’ve ever seen."

The full USGS report on Station Fire debris flow hazards is here.

The USGS report "Emergency Assessment of Debris-Flow Hazards from Basins Burned by the Grand Prix and Old Fires of 2003, Southern California" is available here.

Survivors' accounts from the Christmas 2003 tragedies are here.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

san gabriels

Looking south from Angeles Crest Highway Oct. 1.

By Guy McCarthy

The wind-driven Sheep Fire on the east end of the San Gabriel Mountains forced officials to call for mandatory evacuations earlier today in Wrightwood in San Bernardino County.

Further west in the same mountain range, the 250-square-mile burned areas of the still-smoldering Station Fire remain a primary concern for many Los Angeles city and county residents.

Above Big Tujunga Dam Oct. 1.

A report by the U.S. Geological Survey detailing probability, volume and location of possible post-fire erosion events in and below the Station Fire burned areas is expected to be released to the public this week, according to Sue Cannon, a USGS project manager based in Golden, Colo.

"We hope to have it available online for the public at the same time we make an announcement," Cannon said in a recent phone interview.

Cannon helped lead a team six years ago that prepared a similar report within weeks of the October 2003 Old and Grand Prix fires, which denuded a 40-mile mountain front from Upland, below the east San Gabriels, to Highland, below the San Bernardino Mountains.

Lower Big Tujunga Canyon Oct. 1.

The need for timely and accurate assessment of post-fire dangers was underscored on Christmas Day 2003, when torrential rains on burned watersheds unleashed flash floods and debris flows that killed 16 people -- including nine children -- in Waterman and Cable canyons just outside the city of San Bernardino.

"The urbanized areas below the Station Fire are of course a focus of the report," Cannon said. "But as we learned in 2003, the interior canyons are especially vulnerable."


Thursday, September 10, 2009

burn area

Image from NASA Earth Observatory

By Guy McCarthy

While an army of firefighters battles the 250-square-mile Station Fire, scientists and technicians are trying to map and quantify how much ash, mud and rock could pour out of the burned-out San Gabriel Mountains the next time heavy rains fall.

A U.S. Geological Survey Landslide Hazards team is using NASA satellite images to prepare a burn-severity map that will show probability, volume, and locations of likely debris flows and mudslides, said Sue Cannon, a USGS project manager in Golden, Colo.

"The San Gabriels have a significant history of debris flow activity after fires," Cannon said in a telephone interview. "There are so many humans at the base of the mountains who could be impacted. We want to do this quickly."

Hazard technicians plan today to start field-checking images they received from the earth-observing LANDSAT satellite on Tuesday, and they hope to have a final report and map ready for public safety agencies by next week, Cannon said.

Six years ago Cannon helped lead a team that prepared a similar report within weeks of the October 2003 Old and Grand Prix fires, which denuded a 40-mile mountain front from Upland, below the east San Gabriels, to Highland, below the San Bernardino Mountains.

The need for timely and accurate assessment of potential post-fire dangers was underscored on Christmas Day 2003, when torrential rains on burned watersheds unleashed flash floods and debris flows that killed 16 people -- including nine children -- in Waterman and Cable canyons.

Other mapping specialists working on the Station Fire and post-fire hazard studies include support technicians from Redlands-based ESRI, a producer of geographic information systems software used by the Defense Department in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as by public safety and fire agencies in the United States.

"We have provided tech support for many of the cooperating agencies on the Station Fire," Russ Johnson, ESRI's director for public safety and homeland security programs, told City News Service. "We have provided them with USGS topographic base data for areas considered at risk.

"We will be providing the same kind of support for rehabilitation teams and burned area emergency response teams," Johnson said. "They will be able to extract from GIS (geographic information systems) imagery areas that have the most risk of debris flows and mudslides."

While the Station Fire continues burning east in wilderness areas of the Angeles National Forest, county flood control engineers are assessing the potential for post-fire mud flows from burned areas above densely populated hillside communities in La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta and Tujunga, said Kerjon Lee, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

Thousands of homes below the Station Fire burned areas are protected by flood control channels and basins, according to Public Works maps and records.

But many other homes built in the past 40 years may be at risk, said Doug Hamilton, an Irvine-based engineer and former consultant to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which designed and built many of the flood control structures intended to protect Los Angeles from erosion disasters.

"My concern is the proximity of the fire along the edge of development that's built in the 70s, 80s and 90s," Hamilton said. "They've never seen a post-fire erosion event.

"I see these houses cut into the side of the mountain," Hamilton said. "They're built according to building code, but it's frightening to look at. If there's heavy rains, a lot of these houses are going to be difficult to protect."

The likelihood of heavy rains this fall and winter remains unclear, but local, state and federal agencies must plan for worst-case scenarios regardless of forecasts.

The El Nino pattern that sometimes serves as an accurate predictor for Southern California's winter rain season appears "weak to moderate" right now, which makes the forecast difficult to call, said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in La Canada-Flintridge.

"But all you need is a couple storms and it's a big mess," Patzert said. "Whatever we get in the way of rain, it's going to be a mess. The areas that burned, some of them hadn't burned in 40 to 60 years. One part hadn't burned in a hundred years."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Tuesday encouraged U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to ensure the U.S. Forest Service focuses on erosion mitigation efforts in denuded watersheds before the advent of winter rains.

"Erosion from steep hillsides will threaten water quality and often cause mudslides that damage property downstream and can seriously exacerbate flooding, as debris, mud and rocks clog flood basins," Boxer wrote in a letter to Vilsack, whose department oversees the Forest Service.


USFS Station Fire statement this afternoon:

Post Fire Watershed Rehabilitation Activities

Incident: Station Fire Wildfire
Released: 31 min. ago

What is ahead for the Angeles National Forest

The Station Fire is the largest in Los Angeles Countys recorded history and the largest in the history of the Angeles National Forest, which was established in 1892 as the Timber Land Reserve and later changed to Angeles National Forest.

As the Station Fire subsides, the ongoing concern for the forest lands north of Los Angeles heightens. Winter rain within the burned area can pose an ongoing threat to natural resources, life and property. In order to address those concerns ahead of time, the Angeles National Forest has assembled a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team to assess the damage to the watersheds, soil and natural and cultural resources. The team is comprised of specialists that are highly experienced in conducting rapid watershed assessments and analyses and include soil scientists, hydrologists, geologists, biologists, geographic information specialists, archeologists, botanists, silviculturists, and civil engineers.

The intense heat from wildfires can cause the soil to "seal" itself and water will not easily penetrate it. The water runs rapidly down streams and canyons which could cause potential flooding, mudslides, and debris flows. The BAER Team will assess the post-fire watershed conditions for any potential emergencies and recommend immediate treatments for the National Forest System lands.

The Angeles National Forest provides the Los Angeles Basin with 35% of its water supply. Four watersheds have their origins on the Angeles NF and those watersheds have all experienced different degrees of burn activity within the Station Fire. An assessment of these burned watersheds will need to be undertaken by the BAER Team to determine what methods of treatment will be effective.

Methods used after a fire to help slow the flow of water and mud slides could include erosion control protection measures, road drainage treatments, and cultural heritage resource sites protection.

Another area of concern for the Angeles National Forest is the wildlife that has been displaced. These animals have fled to the communities surrounding the forest. People can expect to see an increase in raccoons, skunks and other animals in their neighborhoods. As the forest cools down, the animals will begin to return to their normal habitat.

The Angeles National Forest will establish a cooperating group that will be able to provide a forum for local cities, towns, county, cooperating agencies; such as Natural Resources Conservation Service, LA Department of Water and Power, and Los Angeles County Flood Control to provide input into the assessment process.


NASA text with satellite image:

Two weeks after an arsonist ignited the drought-dry forest north of Los Angeles, the Station fire had become the ninth largest fire in California since 1933. On the morning of September 8, 2009, the fire had burned more than 250 square miles (about 650 square kilometers) of land, according to the Station Fire Incident Report from September 8. This image, captured by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite on September 6, shows the extent of the burned area. The newly charred land is black in this false-color image, which was made with near infrared light. Plants are dark red, and man-made surfaces, particularly the dense urban centers of Pasadena and Burbank, are blue and white.

The burned area covers much of the San Gabriel Mountains, edging down into residential areas northwest of Pasadena. Smoke rolls off the eastern edge of the burned land. The fire was still burning, just over 50 percent contained when the image was taken. According to the incident report from September 8, the fire was pushing east into forest with no recorded fire history. The fire had previously burned through tall, thick forest that had not seen fire in the past 40 years.

The image also illustrates why fighting the Station fire has been so difficult. The fire burned over steep mountains riddled with canyons. The rugged landscape looks wrinkled, particularly in the burned area where plants no longer soften the ridgelines and canyons. The steep terrain and the fire’s extreme, unpredictable behavior led to the death of two firefighters. Nine other firefighters have been injured fighting the fire, reported the Los Angeles Times.

South and east of the fire, the Mount Wilson Communication Facility and Observatory was still surrounded by unburned forest. The historic, 105-year-old observatory hosts two large telescopes, once the world’s largest, and other instruments to study the Sun and the Universe beyond. Mount Wilson also contains communications towers that serve much of the Los Angeles region. The image shows that the fire approached the facility on two sides, but left the forest around the observatory intact.


NASA Earth Observatory page here

USFS statement on InciWeb here

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

station fire

Across Cook Canyon from Boston Avenue backfire and live fire near homes at 6:48 p.m. Tuesday Sept. 1 in Glendale - no homes were damaged or destroyed in this neighborhood authorities said

Cook Canyon next to Boston Avenue at 6:32 p.m. Tuesday Sept. 1

On Boston Avenue in Glendale at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday Sept. 1

On Boston Avenue in Glendale at 6:10 p.m. Tuesday Sept. 1

On Boston Avenue in Glendale at 6:10 p.m. Tuesday Sept. 1

Backfire activity in north Glendale at 6:04 p.m. Tuesday Sept. 1

Los Angeles County Battalion Chief Tom Ewald, left, confers with L.A. County Assistant Chief David Richardson and others during shift change at 8:35 p.m. Monday Aug. 31 on Starfall Drive off Pine Cone Road in La Crescenta

Looking west towards Station Fire at 7:19 p.m. Sunday Aug. 30 from Oak Glen

All photos by Guy McCarthy


oak glen

Converted DC-10 over Pisgah Peak
6:50 p.m. Sunday Aug. 30 2009

By Guy McCarthy

Story reported, written and published Sunday Aug. 30 2009

OAK GLEN -- More than 100 Riverside County firefighters rushed today to a fast-moving wildfire just across the border in San Bernardino County that grew to 200 acres in dense chaparral and other brush, fire officials said.

The latest Southland wildfire forced the immediate mandatory evacuation of 300 residents and hundreds of tourists in the apple orchard mountain enclave of Oak Glen.

"They just evacuated us and I'm just heading out the door," said Kent Colby, 66, as he locked up at Law's Coffee Shop in the center of Oak Glen. "It really did take off fast. The whole parking lot is full of deputies. They used the loudspeakers and they went door to door."

The fire grew quickly to more than 200 acres after it was first reported at 1:45 p.m. near Potato Canyon Road and Oak Glen Road, according to Cal Fire public information officer Jason Meyer. The blaze was a few miles north of the Riverside County line.

"The most important thing is that everyone cooperate with law enforcement and public safety," Meyer said, speaking from a communications center in San Bernardino. "Everyone needs to make sure they get out of there so we can do what we have to do."

The evacuation extended to the entire town of Oak Glen, and it was mandatory, said San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Arden Wiltshire.

Potato Canyon Road is below most of the town's homes, rustic farm buildings and orchards, as well as some of the densest, oldest chaparral surrounding the town. Above Oak Glen stands densely forested Yucaipa Ridge, an area bordering the San Bernardino National Forest that has not burned in decades.

A half-dozen tanker planes were dropping retardant on the blaze while more than 25 engine crews were assigned to the attack. Many units were staging at Oak Glen Road and Bryant Street in Yucaipa, west of the fire.

"We've got decent flying conditions between here and the fire," said Ward Monroe, an air attack supervisor at the Forest Service Tanker Base at Norton Field in San Bernardino. "It's a bit hazy, but good visibility. Takes five or six minutes to fly from here."

Tanker turnaround times for landing and reloading retardant was 30 to 40 minutes, Monroe said.

The Martin Mars flying boat that has been stationed at Lake Elsinore was pulled off the Cottonwood Fire between Hemet and Idyllwild to make drops on the new fire in Oak Glen, said Forest Service information officer Robin Prince. An order had also been placed for the DC-10 tanker that made drops on the Station Fire above La Canada Flintridge and Altadena, Prince said.

Cal Fire-Riverside County units sent to the fire included six hand crews totaling about 80 firefighters, five engine crews with four firefighters to each engine and four chief officers, said Cal Fire-Riverside County Capt. Jenn Ricci.


fire water

Observers in San Gabriel Canyon
7:44 a.m. Wednesday Aug. 26 2009

By Guy McCarthy

Story reported, written and published Thursday Aug. 27 2009

SAN GABRIEL CANYON -- While more than 1,000 firefighters toiled in heat wave conditions to gain the upper hand on two mountain fires above Azusa and Altadena, a Los Angeles County deputy director of Water Resources said today the Morris Fire could adversely impact the drinking water supply for more than one million people.

Post-fire erosion and accelerated sedimentation -- not pollution -- are the primary concerns to water officials. Vast mountainsides are scorched above the man-made reservoirs in San Gabriel Canyon, and Morris Fire perimeter maps today also showed burned areas bordering both bodies of water.

With vegetation burned off an estimated 1,800 acres or more, erosion rates and volume will increase on the steepest slopes with or without rains, according to geologists and geomorphologists.

Increased erosion in burned watersheds that empty into the San Gabriel and Morris reservoirs could mean those dammed bodies of water will have to be drained and cleared of sediment far ahead of the normal schedule, said Christopher Stone, assistant deputy director for Water Resources, Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

The same thing happened after the 2002 Curve and Williams fires, when it took three years and cost $35 million to remove 5 million cubic yards of debris from the reservoirs, Stone said.

Draining the reservoirs over long periods of time can deprive local water vendors of up to 250,000 acre-feet that could be available in normal years, Stone said.

"In an average year we drain 250,000 acre-feet out of the reservoirs to spreading grounds," Stone told City News Service. "There it percolates underground, then it's pumped out and treated for drinking water supply. An acre-foot can supply two families of four for one year."

The typical annual yield from the San Gabriel and Morris reservoirs supplies "well over a million people," Stone said.

"That's a huge impact," Stone said. "It's a situation we'll have to monitor. A trigger point for draining the reservoirs will be whether we can operate valves and gates on the dams. It will depend on the rain seasons and when we get heavy rains."

Morris Dam was built in 1934, and according to California Institute of Technology archives, Morris Reservoir was used for testing rockets and torpedoes during World War II. The Metropolitan Water District had jurisdiction for several decades, but the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works has been responsible for both dams and reservoirs since 1995.

The San Gabriel Mountains that comprise all the high ground in the Angeles National Forest are ``highly erosive" and tons of sediment come down every year in normal conditions, Stone said. The two reservoirs in San Gabriel Canyon have to be drained and cleared of sediment every 10 to 15 years in normal circumstances -- without fires, Stone said.

At the Morris Fire incident command post in Irwindale, Angeles National Forest Technician Jim Garner explained some basic geology about the eroding San Gabriels.

"These are the fastest-growing mountains in the world, I believe, and they are also the fastest disintegrating, because of the geologic uplifting, the earthquakes and the faults," Garner said, standing next to a fire perimeter map that showed parts of the Morris and the San Gabriel reservoirs. ``Even without the fires, you have a tremendous amount of sediment and material coming out of the North, West and East forks of the San Gabriel River. These are huge drainages.

"That's just in normal conditions. Now you take a fire and wipe out all that vegetation and there's nothing to hold the topsoil and sediment back," Garner said. "So when it rains it accelerates movement of debris and volume of material going into the water in those reservoirs. There will be more turbidity and silt in the water."

Los Angeles County is the custodian of the dams and reservoirs, and flood control is the primary use of the dams, Garner said.

"About every 10 to 15 years they have to drain the reservoirs and remove the silt, in normal conditions without fires," Garner said. "I do believe they get drinking water out of them."

Congressman David Dreier, R-San Dimas, who represents the 26th Congressional District that includes the areas still burning in the Morris and Station fires, visited an incident command post in Irwindale today for a briefing on the fires.

"My main concern is with 100-degree temperatures, we have two fires going and there is the threat of more fires starting in these conditions," Dreier told CNS. "There is no silver lining to these fires. The only benefit that comes is learning how to combat the next fire.

"What I'm saying should be done today is that people take precautions to protect their families, pets and property," Dreier said. "And they need to listen to law enforcement in the event evacuations become necessary."


Thursday, June 11, 2009

young micah

Freshman year at Quartz Hill High

By Guy McCarthy

A popular and respected American alpinist who grew up in Lancaster remains missing at the base of a steep mountain wall in remote southwest China, where an avalanche apparently killed his two comrades.

People who grew up with Micah Dash in Southern California more than 10 years ago remember a humorous, sensitive young man who did things his own way.

"It's hard to put emotions into words," Tami Gallaway Valentine, who attended Quartz Hill High with Dash, said today in a phone interview. "He was always humble and sincere. Full of life. He was always real."

The search for Dash, 32, has been stalled by severe weather but may continue if conditions improve, according to rescue coordinators in China and Colorado.

The bodies of his teammates have already been recovered from avalanche debris below a steep face in the the Minya Konka massif in Sichuan Province, according to the American Alpine Club.

The remains of Jonathan "Jonny" Copp, 35, who grew up in Fullerton and learned to climb at Tahquitz and Joshua Tree, and Wade Johnson, 24, of Arden Hills, Minn., have been transported to the Chinese mountain village of Moxi, according to friends and colleagues in Colorado.

Sophomore year

"I know he still has not been found and I pray to God they find him and find him alive," said Bobbie Johnson Hanrahan, 32, who graduated with Dash in 1995 and now lives in Temecula.

Copp, Dash and Johnson were last heard from May 20 at their base camp below Mount Edgar, a 6600-meter peak near Gongga Shan, according to the AAC. Their objective was to forge a new route up Edgar's steep south face to the summit, more than 21,000 feet above sea level.

Hanrahan said she remembers Dash as a creative cut-up, ready with a smile and quick wit.

"He was small, everybody got along with him," Hanrahan said in a phone interview today. "He always made someone laugh. He always had a smile on his face."

Valentine, who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, said Dash was not an imposing sort in high school, but he made a lasting impression.

"He was always strong, sincere and true from his heart," she said. "Berkenstocks and baggy pants and a beanie. He never put on a persona. All kindness."

As a junior, Dash helped put out Quartz Hill's literary magazine, which included poetry, short fiction, art and photography, Hanrahan said.

"All through high school he didn't seem athletic," Hanrahan said. "People liked him for who he was."

Junior year

Dash had a little of the devil in him at times, but he always stuck up for his friends, Valentine said.

"We got caught cheating in English one time, and he wanted to take all the blame for it," she said. "He was totally going to take the rap for us."

Recent images of Dash remind Valentine of the young man she knew years ago.

"I remember sometimes looking in his eyes in high school," Valentine said. "Now I see his pictures when he's on the mountain tops. It's clear, he's still taking it all in."

After high school Dash moved to Leadville to learn technical climbing and guiding skills at Colorado Mountain College’s Outdoor Leadership Program. He went on to work for Outward Bound in the Sierras, earned a coveted slot on the search-and-rescue team in Yosemite, and continued refining the art of climbing light and fast, according to friends and colleagues in Colorado and California.

Dash also worked recently with amputee and partially paralyzed ice climbers, including an Army veteran who took a rocket-propelled grenade to the chest in Iraq, according to the Denver Post.

Copp, Dash and Johnson were all based in Boulder, where Robb Shurr and others are soliciting donations and coordinating search-and-rescue efforts with Chinese authorities.

"We are deeply grateful to the Chinese climbers and rescue workers who have been doing everything possible on the ground to carry out the search," Shurr said in a recent statement.

Johnson's body was discovered Monday. He was an avid climber, as well as a photographer, film editor and producer with Sender Films, a maker of climbing and adventure videos based in Boulder.

Copp's body was discovered Saturday. In recent years Copp filed expedition reports from Pakistan, Argentina and the Alps that appeared in the American Alpine Journal, Climbing, Rock and Ice, and Alpinist magazines, among others. He also founded the Adventure Film Festival in Boulder, sharing his endeavors with a wider audience in theaters and on the Web. Some of Copp's work is archived here.

Sender Films states on its Web site that "Copp and Dash are highly experienced alpinists and professional climbers" who went to Mount Edgar after receiving a Mugs Stump Award grant for their current expedition from the American Alpine Club.

Copp and Dash had teamed on prior expeditions, including the first ascent of the Shafat Fortress in Kashmir, India in 2007.

Recent news of Copp, Dash and Johnson "has deeply shaken the climbing community, their families and their friends, affecting all who knew these talented young men and all whom they inspired," Erik Lambert of Alpinist wrote Wednesday.

Tributes to Copp, Dash and Johnson have been posted here and here.

All yearbook photos courtesy of Bobbie Johnson Hanrahan.


Monday, June 8, 2009

search continues

Micah Dash in 2007. Photo by Jonny Copp/Mountain Hardware

The body of a second American climber has been recovered in avalanche debris on a remote peak in southwest China, while the search continued today for Lancaster native Micah Dash, according to a spokesman in Colorado.

Chinese rescuers earlier today found the body of Wade Johnson, 24, a Minnesota native based in Boulder, who was photographer and film maker for the expedition.

"This is a very sad day. Wade had a big life in front of him," said Robb Shurr, a spokesman for the search effort. "His family and friends have been very strong during this difficult process of waiting and hoping. Our deepest sympathies go out to the Johnson family and all of the many people that had the opportunity to know and love Wade."

The body of Jonathan "Jonny" Copp, 35, was found Saturday and positively identified Sunday. Copp grew up in Fullerton and learned to climb at Tahquitz Rock above Idyllwild and in Joshua Tree National Park.

The search for Dash, 32, continued today on Mount Edgar, a subsidiary peak of Gongga in Sichuan Province. Dash is a 1995 graduate of Quartz Hill High School, his father told the Antelope Valley Press.

Copp, Dash and Johnson were all based in Boulder, where Shurr and others were soliciting donations and coordinating search efforts with Chinese authorities.

"We are deeply grateful to the Chinese climbers and rescue workers who have been doing everything possible on the ground to carry out the search," Shurr said.

Other American climbers have flown to China to join the search.

Copp, Dash and Johnson were last heard from May 20. They had been scheduled to fly out of Chengdu, Sichuan's capital, but did not show up for the flight.

Johnson was a photographer, film editor and producer with Sender Films, a maker of climbing and adventure films based in Boulder.

Sender Films states on its Web site that "Copp and Dash are highly experienced alpinists and professional climbers" who went to Mount Edgar after receiving a Mugs Stump Award grant for their current expedition from the American Alpine Club.

Copp and Dash had teamed on prior expeditions, including the first ascent of the Shafat Fortress in Kashmir, India. Copp's photo of Dash is on the summit ridge in August 2007.

Tributes to Copp, Dash and Johnson have been posted here.


missing climbers

A renowned alpinist who grew up in Fullerton and learned to climb at Tahquitz, Suicide and Joshua Tree has died in an avalanche on a remote peak in southwest China, according to a search-and-rescue spokesman in Colorado.

A search for two other American climbers who were with him continued today on Mount Edgar in Sichuan Province.

The body of 35-year-old Jonathan "Jonny" Copp was found in avalanche debris and positively identified Sunday, a friend and colleague of Copp said in Boulder, Colo.

"Our deepest condolences and love go to all of Jonny’s family and friends -- and that list of people is so long," Robb Shurr said in a statement. "He will be sorely missed, but we celebrate his inspiring and amazing life."

The climbers who remained missing are Micah Dash, 32, a native of Lancaster in Los Angeles County, and Wade Johnson, 24, of Arden Hills, Minn.

Copp, Dash and Johnson were all based in Boulder, where Shurr and others were soliciting donations and coordinating search-and-rescue efforts with Chinese authorities.

"We are deeply grateful to the Chinese climbers and rescue workers who have been doing everything possible on the ground to carry out the search," Shurr said.

Other American climbers have flown to China to join the search.

Copp, Dash and Johnson were last heard from May 20 at the base of Mount Edgar. They had been scheduled to fly out of Chengdu, Sichuan's capital, but did not show up for the flight.

Johnson is a photographer, film editor and producer with Sender Films, a maker of climbing and adventure videos based in Boulder.

Sender Films states on its Web site that "Copp and Dash are highly experienced alpinists and professional climbers" who went to Mount Edgar after receiving a Mugs Stump Award grant for their current expedition from the American Alpine Club.

Copp and Dash had teamed on prior expeditions, including the first ascent of the Shafat Fortress in Kashmir, India.

Tributes to Copp, Dash and Johnson have been posted here.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

lightning strikes

USFS firefighters monitor blazes above Thurman Flat

By Guy McCarthy

MILL CREEK CANYON - Slow-moving thunderstorms unleashed scores of lightning strikes across the Inland Empire and the mountains today, killing a woman outside her home in Fontana and injuring a woman in Cabazon, authorities said.

In Big Bear Lake, winds or lightning snapped a large pine tree 30 feet above the ground, crushing a Chevrolet Suburban and killing the 31-year-old woman inside it, according to a fire prevention officer.

Lightning strikes also ignited more than 20 fires in the San Bernardino Mountains and wilderness areas, Forest Service firefighters said.

Forecasters said more thunder and lightning remain possible through Saturday.

"This is not the monsoon," said National Weather Service meteorologist Ted MacKechnie. "It's upper level low pressure that trapped a subtropical air mass over the ocean, and brought it over Southern California.

"The low will continue to move slowly inland," MacKechnie said. "Through Saturday or Saturday night."

Photo courtesy Big Bear Lake Fire Protection District

In Fontana about 4:45 p.m., a woman was under a tree in front of a house when she was struck and killed by lightning, Fontana police Sgt. Jeff Decker said in a phone interview.

Earlier in Cabazon, a woman in a parking lot was injured by a lightning strike close by. She was not struck by lightning, Cal Fire-Riverside County officials said.

By sundown, firefighters had dealt with more than 20 lightning-related fires in the San Bernardino National Forest today, including at least five in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, according to the Forest Service.

The largest was the McKinley Fire on Harrison Mountain, which burned about 150 acres above Highland before rains helped douse it, according to the Forest Service.

The Peak Fire, below San Bernardino Peak, had burned about 10 acres by sundown. Other small fires were reported out or contained near Oak Glen, Mountain Home Village, Lake Arrowhead, and Cranston in the San Jacinto Mountains.

Some fire crews were preparing to keep watch overnight on the most persistent of the blazes, and hoped to extinguish them before hotter, drier weather returns.

Unusual weather system west of Mill Creek Canyon

Thursday, May 21, 2009

persistence pays off

Climbers near Camp II in April
Images provided by Nicholas Rice

By Guy McCarthy

Blasting winds, heavy snow and grinding ice destroyed three of his tents on the world's eighth-highest mountain.

At times he endured temperatures 40 below zero Fahrenheit and colder, in a realm so devoid of oxygen those who go there call it the Death Zone. He assisted in two rescues and the elements contributed to at least one fatality.

But he refused to give up his goal of reaching the top. Persistence paid off.

On Day 57 of his expedition in the Nepalese Himalaya, Nicholas Rice of Hermosa Beach finally stood on the 8156-meter summit of Manaslu, a Sanskrit name that translates roughly to "Mountain of the Spirit."

"I summited at 11:30 a.m. on the 19th of May!" Rice said today in an e-mail today from his base camp. "All the best!"

On 8156-meter summit of Manaslu in Nepal

The 24-year-old climber's elation comes at the end of an ordeal that required multiple forays up the mountain and weeks of waiting. He had stocked high camps without porters and without supplemental oxygen, and he'd descended numerous times when the weather turned bad.

"Definitely recovered in base camp now, but it isn't looking good for a weather window," Rice said in an e-mail on May 12. "We've had 2 meters of snow here in base camp already with more to come and no sufficient weather window in sight before the monsoon brings the close of the season. Many expeditions are heading home . . . "

The next day Rice said he and other climbers who remained might still have a chance.

"It looks like there may be a weather window for the summit centering around the 18th of May. It will be difficult thanks to the deep snow and low number of climbers left in base camp, but Mario Panzeri and I will try starting up on the 16th. Wish us luck!!!!"

Ascending serac below Camp IV on Monday

According to dispatches on his Web site, Rice and Panzeri woke at 4 a.m. Saturday to begin their summit push from base camp. In camps I and II Rice found both his tents buried and crushed. Winds were approaching 100 mph and he was worried about frostbite.

On Monday at Camp III, an estimated 7000 meters above sea level, Rice found his third tent demolished and pushed on to Camp IV.

"I passed the corpse close to Camp IV and then spotted a number of destroyed tents on the crystal ice," Rice said. "I headed down to the rocky ridge and spotted Mario with the tent already set up . . .

"We settled in, made water, and quickly got to sleep, knowing that in a few hours, we would be heading up for the summit, two months of work boiling down to the next 24 hours."

They woke at midnight and started for the summit in freezing darkness. Ice on the route was steep and hardened, and at least one climber turned back. Rice tired in the thin air and found himself dozing off. He stopped to rest.

More than 11 hours later, he made it over the last of several high points and stood on the highest.

"I reached the summit in nearly perfect weather, with only a slight breeze and mild temperatures," Rice said. "The view was spectacular.

" . . . I knew that the weather was forecast to change and didn’t fancy looking for Camp IV in a whiteout. The slope before reaching Camp IV is icy and dangerous. As I headed down, exhausted, the clouds began to roll in."

Stuffed animal near summit on Tuesday

Rice made it back to Camp IV about 5 p.m., where he was grateful to share a tent with someone who could watch him for signs of dizziness and distraction. He was thrashed.

They descended all the way to base camp the next day, and celebrated with cheese, meat and wine. Porters are expected to arrive tomorrow for the trek back to Kathmandu.

Experience has taught Rice when to back off, and when to go for it.

Nine months ago, Rice was high on K2 in northeast Pakistan's Karakoram Range when 11 climbers died in one of the deadliest episodes in recent mountaineering history.

Rice opted to retreat on the world's second-highest mountain due to a delayed start on summit day, avalanche dangers, and crowding on the treacherous route to the top. News of the missing climbers, rescue efforts and deaths unfolded over several days and made global headlines.

The Nepalese Himalaya is roughly halfway around the world from Los Angeles and Rice's hometown. When it's sundown here, the sun is rising where he is.

Rice during trek to Manaslu base camp in March

For more on Rice's Nepal expedition, visit his Web site here.

For previous reports on Rice's experience on K2, click here.