Local Agencies Offer Advice to Prepare for Winter Storms

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PCH Mudslide Closure

With this past Friday’s soaking of the southland, public agencies are on high alert to ensure the safety of Malibu residents. With the area’s history of rockslides on Pacific Coast Highway, along with the possibility of mudslides in recent burn areas, there are precautions to be taken to avoid disasters.

For homeowners who need sandbags to help shore up property, 2,000 empty bags are available at the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station. They are also available at every fire station in Malibu. Los Angeles County Assistant Fire Chief Anthony Williams said 5,000 bags are available at each location. Of course, you must fill the bags on your own and there is limited sand available at station No. 70 at PCH and Carbon Canyon and at station No. 69 in Topanga.

Williams told The Malibu Times the fire department takes extra precautions during inclement weather.

“We have a swift water rescue team staffed by station 70, and our life guard division staffs a swift water rescue heli-team out of Pacoima,” Williams described. “We also have two extra staff patrols in the local foothills. One at station 70 and another at 65 near Cornell Road.” These patrols are manned with two people and specifically use smaller engines in order to access places that a bigger fire engine might find difficult to navigate. In addition, the county will add three water rescue teams and five extra patrols in recent burn areas that include Calabasas, where the “Old Fire” burned during this past summer. Burn areas are especially vulnerable to mudslides due to low hillside water saturation. Williams said it is the intensity — not the amount of rain — that determines the mudflow. The department is in constant contact with the Public Works Department as well as the National Weather Service to anticipate the possibility of mudflow. At this time, Williams said on a one-to-four scale, Malibu is in a phase one with some possibility of mud or debris.

Believe it or not, the fire department said we are still in brush fire season. 

“This is a challenging time of year. With five previous years of drought and accumulated dry material, we could still potentially have a brush fire,” Williams described.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department agrees with that assessment. 

“We are still ramped up for fire danger,” Deputy Mark Winn, who serves as liaison to the City of Malibu said. 

“The safety of the community is foremost,” Winn continued.

He explained how the department has an eye on known washout areas, especially on canyon roads, and said the department is prepared to keep traffic moving using all the tools at hand including road closure signs to divert traffic in an emergency due to fire or flood. 

The Sheriff’s Department, along with Malibu’s Community Assistance and Resource Team (CART) is also trying to reach homeless encampments that might be in danger of flooding. 

“We don’t want the homeless to fall victim to mother nature,” Winn said. There is a shuttle service that currently leaves the Malibu Labor Exchange in the Civic Center every afternoon at 4:30 and now has a second location pick up at 5:30 at Topanga State Beach with a West Los Angeles shelter destination. The shuttle returns to Malibu early every morning.

For drivers, in an attempt to beat the predicted El Niño that fizzled out last year, Caltrans already got the jump on shoring up areas of PCH near Tuna Canyon and Big Rock and also near Big Sycamore near the Ventura County line. Caltrans spokesperson Kelly Markham said the agency has already begun clearing out culverts and debris basins to avoid possible flooding on the roadway — but she still encouraged drivers to “increase their stopping distance and use caution,” as did the California Highway Patrol. 

“The canyons have a lot of rocks and boulders that fall onto the roadway,” CHP officer Leland Tang reminded drivers. “Reducing speeds will enable you to drive around them.”

Malibu Search and Rescue is not only prepared for storms, but also has this warning from leader David Katz: “We advise people to stay away from storm channels as well as canyons in our area in particular. The canyons in the Malibu area become torrents of rushing rivers that push trees, bushes and debris at a very high rate of speed. These areas can be death traps for people who get caught in them. Also, it is inadvisable to hike during impending storms, especially in areas with water features such as Escondido Falls and Malibu Creek State Park.” 

Two years ago, four hikers were stuck for eight hours in a storm until a harrowing 2 a.m. rescue saved them at Malibu Creek.