"There Will Be Mud": Post-Wildfire Mud and Debris Flow Emergencies Challenge Firefighters

Larry Collins reports on the hazards faced by Southern California firefighters when floods and mud and debris flows follow wildfires.


Larry Collins reports on the hazards faced by Southern California firefighters when floods and mud and debris flows follow wildfires. Four years after deadly fire storms swept across Southern California and burned thousands of homes, it happened again. In October and November 2007, an unprecedented...


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"The risk from landslides, debris flows and rock falls are possible where roads, residences or other development are located on alluvial fans, colluvial footslopes and debris fans and the risk from debris torrents and flooding from increased surface water runoff are possible where residences or other development are near stream channels or on low stream terraces...occupied areas within or adjacent to the fire perimeter can expect higher than normal flows with possible bulking/debris flow and landslides in all rain events. The higher the rainfall intensity the higher the risk for landslides, flooding and debris flow throughout all burned area basins. This threat includes the loss of life and property."

BAER reports for the "Canyon Fire" and "Corral Fire" burn areas warn: "The principal concern with the 'Corral Fire is loss of human life and property due to an increase in the potential for in-channel floods, hyper-concentrated floods, debris torrents and debris flows. Houses and communities near or within stream channels...appear to be in positions where significant in-channel floods, hyper-concentrated floods, debris torrents, mass wasting and debris flows are possible. In addition, possible loss of life resulting from localized debris sliding, debris flows, and sediment laden floods onto individual homes beyond the areas described previously is also possible.

"Fire and flood are historical components of the 'Corral' and 'Canyon Fire' area as evidenced by four fires in the past 10 years, in some cases followed by flooding. As such, local governments and private landowners have been active for many years in cooperative post-fire assessments, mitigation or treatments, predictive modeling of mudflows, etc."

LARRY COLLINS, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 27-year member of the of Los Angeles County, CA, Fire Department, where he is a captain, USAR Specialist and paramedic assigned to USAR Task Force 103, which responds to technical rescues and multi-alarm fires across Los Angeles County. He is a Search Team Manager for the department's FEMA/OFDA USAR Task Force for domestic and international response, and he served as an USAR Specialist on the "Red" FEMA USAR Incident Support Team since 1990. He authored the textbook series Technical Rescue Operations, the "Rescue" chapter of The Fire Chiefs Handbook, and the "Rescue" chapter of the upcoming Handbook for Firefighter I and II.