Firefighters flooded with responsibilities

Elizabeth Wirtz


A sudden rainfall on Nov. 29 seemed, to some Californians, a relief from the recent wildfires taking over several counties in California. However, too much rain on the parched California soil holds the potential for disaster. 

With over 88 deaths recorded from The Camp Fire in Northern California Butte County, in an interview, Cal Fire battalion chief Patrick Purvis told CNN that “We just can’t catch a break with it right now in the county [. . .] we just go from fire season straight into floods, landslides.” The heavy rainfall on Thursday Nov. 29 caused havoc on Butte County. CNN reports that streets have been flooded and filled with debris washed onto the roads. Houses and yards have also been flooded and walkways blocked with trash remains. 

Firefighters have transitioned from putting out fires, to rescuing people from flood zones. On Nov. 29, Cal Fire’s Butte Unit twitter tweeted, “Butte County/CAL FIRE Firefighters were busy this afternoon with flooding and water rescue emergencies along Honey Run Road and west to the Durham area.” The National Weather Service reported that 1 to 2 inches of rainfall fell within an hour on Thursday night. Beyond homeowners, the rainfall has caused problems for city municipality. The California Department of Transportation released a statement informing citizens that the rainfall caused debris to block drains and cause mudslides in Butte County. 

In Southern California, rainfall caused mudslides in Lake Elsinore. The Holy Fire burned over 22,000 acres of land earlier this year. Sludge was pushed by the rainfall into the streets of Lake Elsinore and the yards of homes in the city. Lake Elsinore firefighters were removing over 2 feet of mud from a person’s house in Lake Elsinore. Malibu also experienced heavy rain where roads were closed because of the rockslides and debris getting onto the roads.  

The National Weather Service warned on Thursday the 30 that even 0.2 inches of rain could cause mudslides in counties affected by wildfires. Meteorologist Maggie Johnson explained that ash from the wildfires creates a slick ground that does not have friction with the sudden heavy rainfall. AccuWeather explained that the roots of plants help to stabilize soil and with wildfires the heat is slow moving so soil begins to repel water, thus creating a mudslide. Time reported areas with steep slopes are the most likely to be affected by mudslides. Slopes that are south facing are at a particular risk for mudslides. Highway 1, or Pacific Coast Highway, is at a higher risk for mudslides and debris on the roads and travelers should be cautious with rainfall.

The Cal Fire team has been busy assessing the risk of both fire and mudslides by testing soil types, looking at topography and examining weather patterns. Despite all of the efforts to predict where the next natural disaster will occur, the National Weather Service continues to issue statements warning about the potential risks in the different communities, “They are [the firefighters are] trying to counter the risk.”