Storm system threatens mudslides in areas devastated by California fires

November 20, 2018

Tyson Fisher


As firefighting crews in California get closer to full containment on two major wildfires, Mother Nature could bring more danger to residents and motorists. Upcoming storms increase the possibility of mudslides and debris flow, potentially destroying homes that remain standing and closing more roads.

Threat of mudslides

According to the National Weather Service, Paradise, Calif., and other areas affected by the Camp Fire are under a flash flood watch. Moderate to heavy rain is expected Tuesday night through Friday. The Los Angeles area also is expected to receive some much-needed precipitation.

Although a storm system will help suppress the fires, it also could add another layer of complexity for rescue crews. Rain mixed into recently burned areas could result in an extremely muddy environment.

The National Weather Service warns residents that heavy rain can increase the risk of rockslides, mudslides and debris flows over recent fires. With approximately 700 people still missing, rescue efforts could be affected as landslide threats will prevent crews from entering certain areas. Furthermore, any landslides could bury remains.

According to county officials, road maintenance crews from Butte County and the town of Paradise are working collaboratively to assess and reduce the risk of flooding and flow of ash from hardscape areas. NWS advises that those traveling along portions of Highway 70 and the Skyway in Butte County should be alert for possible road problems due to flooding, rock and debris flows.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued a regional emergency declaration in California. The declaration will remain in effect for the duration of the emergency or until Dec. 15, whichever is less. For more details, click here.

Potential rockslide, mudslide graphic
Upcoming storms in California areas devastated by wildfires increase the possibility of mudslides and debris flow, potentially destroying homes that remain standing and closing more roads.


Camp Fire

As of Tuesday morning, the Camp Fire in Butte County has killed 79 people, burned more than 150,000 acres, and destroyed nearly 13,000 residences, making it both the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history.

Crews have the fire at 70 percent containment and expect full containment by Nov. 30. Despite progress, nearly 15,000 structures remain threatened.

Caltrans is reporting two significant road closures.

  • SR 70 is closed from 5 miles east of the junction at SR 191 at Cherokee Road to the Butte/Plumas county line.
  • SR 191 is closed nearly 1 mile south of Paradise at Airport Road to just south of Paradise at Paradise Dump Road. Several other smaller road closures are in effect in the area.

Woolsey Fire

Meanwhile, in Ventura and Los Angeles County, the Woolsey fire has caused three fatalities, burned nearly 100,000 acres and destroyed 1,500 structures. At 96 percent containment, fire crews expect to have the fire fully contained by Thanksgiving Day.

According to Caltrans, two major road closures are still in place.

  • SR 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) southbound is closed at the Lost Angeles/Ventura county line.
  • SR 23 is closed from SR 1 in Malibu to Carlisle Road in Thousand Oaks.