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Map of damage to the town of Paradise from the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history. NASA / JPL-Caltech

Northern California, which is already reeling from the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history, is now bracing for heavy rainfall this week.

The forecasted rain could bring much-needed relief for the firefighters battling the Camp Fire in Butte County. However, it could also bring new hazards due to possible ash, mud and debris flows triggered by the rain.

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Abdallah Issa / Flickr

By Lee MacDonald

Several weeks after a series of wildfires blackened nearly 500 square miles in Southern California, a large winter storm rolled in from the Pacific. In most places the rainfall was welcomed and did not cause any major flooding from burned or unburned hillslopes.

But in the town of Montecito, a coastal community in Santa Barbara County that lies at the foot of the mountains blackened by the Thomas Fire, a devastating set of sediment-laden flows killed at least 20 people and damaged or destroyed more than 500 homes. In the popular press these flows were termed "mudslides," but with some rocks as large as cars these are more accurately described as hyperconcentrated flows or debris flows, depending on the amount of sediment mixed with the water.

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Editor's Note: As of 7:30 am EST Thursday the California mudslides death toll has risen to 17. Southern California, which just endured the largest wildfire in state history, is being bombarded by flooding and destructive mudslides triggered by torrential downpours.

The "waist-high" mud destroyed homes, uprooted trees and washed away dozens of cars in Santa Barbara County, CNN reported.

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