Mudslides related to fires could cause evacuations in Santa Cruz Mountains

Wildfires

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) – Evacuations loom once again for residents in parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains because of mudslides related to wildfires.

Robert Berry says he’s getting ready to evacuate once again amid the all too real potential for mudslides when winter rains return.

“It’s one thing after another. We’re just hit with multiple catastrophes, but we’re doing the best we can to stay here. This is our home. It’s mountain living,” said Berry.

Across the CZU Lightning Complex Fire Zone, hundreds of homes and families are in harm’s way. In areas where the vegetation is gone, mudslides or debris flows happen when heavy rain saturates the ground in what amounts to a mass of soil, rock, downed trees, and other debris gaining size and speed as it moves downslope.

County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty says evacuations are imminent.

“We got a report on Tuesday that showed, we’re at serious danger of debris flows, mudslides, landslides that’ll come with very little warning after very little rain after a fire this intense. So we’re trying to get the word out that people should be prepared to evacuate,” said County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty. 

Rain-driven mudslides killed several people following 2018’s Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara. Debris flows can reach avalanche speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. Even homes on relatively flat ground, a mile or more away from a slope, are at risk. 

It doesn’t take much to trigger a slide. 

“They’re saying that even a quarter-inch of rain could cause a serious debris side,” Coonerty added.

Robert Berry says that what’s left of the soil and ash above his home can prevent rainfall from soaking in, increasing runoff and the potential for a slide, sweeping up everything in its path. 

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