Torrential rains swept over Southern California triggering flash floods and mudslides over land recently devastated by wildfires. Over 2,500 residents in Oak Glen and Forest Falls were stranded including 500 middle and high school students with their chaperones at a church camp. The Forest Home camp “is basically like a dead-end slot canyon,” San Bernardino Fire Captain Hauducoeur explained. The entrance to the camp was trapped by mudslides.
Heavy rains came at a time when 82 percent of California is under extreme drought and wildfires had scorched the land triggering the flash floods and mudslides up to 10 feet in Southern California. Resident Joo Hwan Lee’s car was swept into the torrent. He loved the outdoors and had gone hiking when he decided to head home, where he has a 13-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. Gushing waters enveloped his Prius, where workers found him dead.
In January of 2014, seven fires ravaged areas of Southern California. The dry brush, steep terrain, and gusty winds made battling the fires extremely difficult. In Glendora, 2,000 residents were evacuated and two homes were burned when three people tossed paper into a campfire too close to the dangerously dry foothills. Authorities ordered mass evacuations, but homeowners could be seen attempting to hose down their property.
In May, there were also multiple fires ablaze. In fact, by mid-May, officials stated they had already dealt with 1,400 wildfires in California in 2014. Since the wildfire destroyed vegetation, there was not anything to anchor the soil and the heavy rains loosened it until it was swept away with the water.
People have described it as sounding like a freight train. Hikers had moments to scramble out of the way before rock, mud and water engulfed the path. Michael Honor watched Bear Creek flow for the first time in two years. He said, “The stream was a raging black torrent of debris and big logs and muddy, silty water. It was apocalyptic.” On Goat Hill Road, homes were buried up to their roofs.
The muck is so thick it engulfed a van. Knee-deep water flooded the streets in Palm Springs. A massive mudslide split Oak Glen. In Forest Falls there were 10-foot mudslides. One man saw the raging water toss his propane tank into a tree.
The kids at camp were evacuated safely Monday, but the storm left 31 homes buried in debris, many of which became uninhabitable. Every rescue unit, every fire engine was sent out rescuing people and dogs, even from trees. Bulldozers and heavy equipment could take days to clear the roads.
People love the warm, dry climate of Southern California. On Monday, people came out in force to redeem the situation. Doug Roath, a tree trimmer, had lost his chainsaws and other possessions to the river. His house was unlivable and his mountain bike was bent in half. One neighbor donated $200 to fix his saws; another gave $300, while another shoveled mud. A 60-year-old, Martha Foster, could not dig but brought all the workers food from the nearby restaurant.
As Pat Marks explained, “I hope to get the mud out before it turns to concrete.” His back door was buried two feet in muck and the garage was flooded. Dozens of volunteers tackled the tons of muck left, while bulldozers and heavy equipment dominated the roads. Now that the flash floods and mudslides have subsided, people are ready to take on the devastation triggered by the wildfires in Southern California.
By Laurie Stilwell