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Forecasters Warn of Massive Mudslide Risk to Woolsey Fire-Affected Californians

Two weeks ago, citizens in Santa Monica and Malibu, Calif., watched as the Woolsey Fire devastated the area. Today, they’re on their guard again as the U.S. Geological Survey is warning of a high risk of mudslides with debris from fire-stricken areas.

A map from the USGS shows a mudslide likelihood of 60% or higher in broad swaths of the state between Malibu and Point Mugu State Park, with significant areas in a risk range of 40-60%. (The estimates are based on a storm with a peak 15-minute rainfall intensity of 24 millimeters per hour. Rain is forecast for the area this afternoon and evening.)

The Woolsey Fire wasn’t fully contained until November 22 and destroyed some 1,600 homes, killing three people.

Mudslides don’t always get the media attention that wildfires do, but they can be just as devastating.

Last December’s Thomas Fire was, at the time, the largest wildfire in the state’s history, claiming 281,893 acres. A few months later, heavy rains hit the area, resulting in 30,000 people being evacuated and 214 homes being destroyed (and another 194 suffering damage). That resulted in $208 million in commercial property losses and between $177 million and $204 million in residential property damages (and those figures don’t factor in debris removal and landscaping), according to a damage assessment report from Robert D. Niehaus.

Local officials in Santa Barbara spent $2 million to fight the Thomas Fire. The mudslides cost the city $7 million.

While it’s unlikely any potential mudslides in the Woolsey-affected area will be that dramatic, officials in Malibu and Thousands Oaks (which was also affected by the fire) are urging residents to be on their guard and pick up sandbags to protect their homes.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen today, but we want everybody to be prepared,” L.A. County Fire Department Capt. Brian Jordan told KABC.