LOS ANGELES– Cleanup efforts and damage assessments were underway in east Los Angeles on Tuesday after heavy rains triggered mudslides in a mountainous area scorched by a wildfire two years ago, sending boulders on the roads, washing away cars and causing evacuations and shelter-in-place.
Firefighters went street by street to make sure no residents were trapped after mudslides began flooding the roads Monday night near the community of Forest Falls. Eric Sherwin, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department, said crews found no one to rescue and no one was missing.
Several homes and other structures suffered varying levels of damage, Sherwin said, including a commercial building where the mud was so high it collapsed the roof. Boulders, dead trees and other debris tumbled down the slopes with astonishing force at Forest Falls, Oak Glen and Yucaipa, he said.
“We have boulders that have shifted and weigh several tons,” Sherwin said. “It could take days to find all the missing cars as they are completely covered in mud.”
Video on Oak Glen’s social media showed a torrent of mud rolling down a hill, crossing a road and entering a restaurant parking lot.
Danny Imler made slow progress on Tuesday as he used a plow on the front of his small tractor to try and clear several feet of mud from the driveway of his house.
“I’ve been in Yucaipa for 60 years,” Imler told KTLA-TV. “I’ve never seen it flood like this.”
Nearly 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain fell on Yucaipa Ridge. Concerns about more thunderstorms on Tuesday prompted authorities to keep about 2,000 homes in communities in the San Bernardino Mountains under evacuation orders.
For some homes in Forest Falls, it was too late to evacuate on Monday and residents were told to shelter in place overnight as it was safer than venturing outside.
The rains were the remnants of a tropical storm that brought high winds and much-needed precipitation to drought-stricken Southern California last week, helping firefighters largely stem a wildfire that had burned out checkpoint about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of the mudslide.
Mudslides and flash flooding have occurred in parts of the San Bernardino Mountains where there are burn scars — areas where there is little vegetation to hold soil — from the 2020 wildfires .
“All that dirt turns to mud and starts sliding down the mountain,” Sherwin said.
One of the fires of 2020, the El Dorado fire, was started by a smoke device used by a couple to reveal the gender of their baby. A firefighter died and the couple were charged with manslaughter.
The landslides came after a week in which California suffered a record-breaking heat wave. Temperatures in many parts of the state soared past 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) and pushed the state’s power grid to breaking point as air conditioners soaked up power. The Fairview Fire in Southern California and the Mosquito Fire east of Sacramento erupted and raged out of control.
The tropical storm helped crews battle the Fairview Fire about 121 miles southeast of Los Angeles. The 44 square mile (114 square kilometer) blaze was 62% contained as of Tuesday. Two people died fleeing the blaze, which destroyed at least 30 homes and other structures in Riverside County.
The Mosquito Fire has grown to 78 square miles (200 square kilometers), with 18% containment, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. While teams were able to take advantage of cooler temperatures and higher humidity to reinforce lines of control, more than 5,800 structures in Placer and El Dorado counties remained at risk and some 11,000 residents were under evacuation order.
Smoky skies from wildfires in many parts of the west caused air quality to deteriorate on Monday, with dangerous levels of particulate pollution detected by government and private monitors in parts of the east Oregon and Washington, northern California, central Idaho and western Montana. In some areas, people have been told to avoid all outdoor activity until the pollution is cleared.
In Washington, firefighters scrambled to get resources for a blaze that started Saturday in the remote Stevens Pass area that scared hikers and forced evacuations from mountain communities. As of Monday, the Bolt Creek Fire was 2% contained and had burned nearly 12 square miles (31 square kilometers) of forest land about 65 miles (104 kilometers) northeast of Seattle. A larger incident management team and additional fire crews were expected to arrive Tuesday, officials said.
In Oregon, evacuation orders have been eased near the 135-square-mile (349-square-kilometer) Cedar Creek Fire, which has burned for more than a month in Lane and Deschutes counties south of Portland. Firefighters were protecting remote homes in Oakridge, Westfir and surrounding mountain communities. Sheriff officials have warned people to stay ready to leave at any time if conditions change.
Scientists say climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. Over the past five years, California has experienced the largest and most destructive wildfires in its history.
Associated Press writer Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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