Approaching rain worries fire-scarred Southern California

November 20, 2018
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FILE - This Nov. 9, 2018 file photo shows the charred remains of a home after the Woolsey fire swept through Malibu, Calif. The number of structures destroyed by a huge Southern California wildfire has risen to 1,500. Another 341 structures were damaged as of a Monday, Nov. 19, 2018 count. As firefighters mop up, repair and restoration of utilities is continuing along with repopulation of areas evacuated when winds spread the fire earlier this month. Forecasters predict rain in the area by midweek. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

MALIBU, Calif. (AP) — Crews filled sandbags at Malibu’s famous Zuma Beach on Tuesday as residents of homes surrounded by vast burn scars from a deadly Southern California wildfire prepared for the arrival of a Pacific storm a day before Thanksgiving.

People who worried just days earlier that their homes might be consumed by flames were now taking action to guard against runoff from hills and mountainsides left barren by the Woolsey Fire’s march through communities and wilderness west of Los Angeles.

Many were mindful of the disaster that struck less than a year ago when a downpour on a fresh burn scar up the coast sent home-smashing debris flows through Montecito, killing 21 people and leaving two missing.

“I think after seeing what happened in Montecito, it just makes you want to be a little bit more concerned and a little bit more prepared, because seeing those images was shocking,” Katherine Grace told KABC-TV as she picked up sandbags in Thousand Oaks.

Officials throughout fire zones urged residents to prepare for flood safety.

“If there is a mandatory evacuation order, that is serious,” Malibu Councilman Lou La Monte told KTTV. “You saw what happened in Montecito. We can’t allow that to happen here.”

The National Weather Service said the main portion of the storm was expected to arrive Wednesday night, bringing three to five hours of light to moderate rain, moving west to east across the region. Peak rainfall, however, were expected to remain below critical levels.

“Residents near burn areas should remain vigilant, but at this time, the probability for any significant debris flows is very small,” the weather service said.

The 151-square-mile (391-square-kilometer) Woolsey Fire was almost entirely contained, with 1,500 buildings destroyed and 341 damaged. The major remaining closed area was centered in the rugged Santa Monica Mountains that rise high above the Malibu coast.

The Woolsey Fire and the nearby Hill Fire, which scorched 7 square miles (18 square kilometers) in Ventura County, erupted near each other on Nov. 8 as strong Santa Ana winds swept the region.

The causes of the fires are under investigation, but a recently filed lawsuit accuses Southern California Edison of failing to shut off power in the area before the larger blaze began. The lawsuit by nearly 20 people claims the utility ignored warnings of extreme fire weather.

The company said in a statement that it can’t comment on litigation related to wildfires.

The death toll from the Woolsey Fire stood at three — two found in a car and one found in the rubble of a charred home. All remained unidentified, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said.

Authorities revealed Tuesday that bone fragments also were found last week in Malibu by a property owner surveying damage, but sheriff’s homicide detectives determined the remains were there before the fire.

Analysis and investigation were trying to determine the age of the person who died and the cause and time frame of death, sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.

Update hourly