Thursday, January 21, 2010
Slopes above La Cañada and La Crescenta this morning
By Guy McCarthy
A fire captain and a coroner's investigator who responded to two deadly post-fire erosion disasters on Christmas Day 2003 have words of advice for residents of more than 750 foothill homes under evacuation orders today.
"Listen to the officials," San Bernardino Fire Department Capt. Vinson Gates said in a recent telephone interview.
"It's mud, rocks, boulders, trees and debris," Gates said. "Me myself, I've seen a lot of people die behind that. I would leave, me and my family, that's what I would do. I've seen it destroy two campgrounds, so I can imagine what it would do to homes."
Sixteen people -- including nine children -- died on Dec. 25 2003 in two different boulder-laden flash floods in canyons above San Bernardino.
Gabriel Morales, a supervising deputy coroner's investigator for San Bernardino County, also advised Los Angeles-area foothill residents to obey evacuation orders.
"I was out there Christmas Day, we had five members of a coroner's recovery team," Morales said in a telephone interview. "Both the KOA and Camp Sophia. It was a tragic event.
"These events are deadly," Morales said. "If law enforcement are advising get out, absolutely do so because it will save your life."
It took days to find most of the victims, and the last was recovered four months later miles downstream, Morales said.
"It was terrible, to see small children killed like that," Morales said. "I know a lot of rescue workers had problems with it."
Some victims were entombed and suffocated in the debris flows, according to coroner's reports.
"Because of the pressure forces involved, some died of blunt force injuries," Morales said. "It was awful."
The events occurred about 10 miles apart below mountain watersheds denuded by the October 2003 Old Fire, which destroyed a thousand homes and contributed to six deaths.
Christmas 2003 was the Southland's most recent reminder that post-fire erosion events can be deadlier than the firestorms that precede them.
In February 1978, a post-fire debris flow killed 13 people in the community of Hidden Springs, above Big Tujunga Canyon in the Angeles National Forest.