Californians worry about mudslides

November 01, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- With the worst wildfires in recent history quickly burning into memory, many Southern Californians were looking toward a long and daunting recovery, and worrying about the mudslides that are almost certain to come.

Most of the 14 fires that had burned across six counties over the last week were under control yesterday or on the verge of being encircled by firefighters, with no homes remaining in immediate danger.

The Laguna Beach fire, the most devastating of the blazes, was nearly extinguished by last night.

Fire officials predicted complete containment of all the region's blazes by today or tomorrow.

More than 168,000 acres and 731 structures burned during the last week, causing at least $500 million in damage. Paul Flores of the California Office of Emergency Services yesterday called the dollar damage figure "very preliminary," adding: "We expect it to go up."

Forecasters had earlier predicted a return of dry, hot Santa Ana winds by early in the week, but they backed off the warning as the day went on.

"Basically, we're in a downswing and the general feeling is that we've finally conquered it," said Ventura County fire spokesman O.J. Hunt, whose remarks were echoed throughout the fire zone, which included Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, to Orange County to the south.

Despite the good news, officials said they had little inclination to celebrate. Crews were expected to remain in the field for a week or more to douse embers, while experts move ahead with attempts to prevent the fires' twin scourge -- floods.

In the hillsides above Altadena a 10-member "rehabilitation team" of government biologists, engineers, hydrologists and archaeologists fanned out for the second day to assess damage and plan for stabilizing the hills.

"Probably 80 percent of that area was a high-intensity burn," said Bill Brown, a wildlife biologist, who is heading the rehabilitation team. "There is nothing left. It is also very steep. There is nothing to hold the water when it hits the hillside."

Mr. Brown said his team will recommend a helicopter drop of grass seed over most of the fire area. "We have such a narrow window between now and the first rainfall," he said. "We have to get some seed on the ground now. We are running against the clock in that particular area."

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