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Attention on Avila Fire burn scar as winter rains approach

Angel Russell
Green seedings and straw logs along a hillside burned in June.

The first winter rains are expected this weekend along the Central Coast, posing a potential concern for homes along a hillside in Pismo Beach, scorched from the Avila Fire in mid-June. 

The Avila Fire burned through more than 400 acres of vegetation. Cal Fire SLO investigators determined it was human-caused and intentionally set, but no arrests have been made.

Ever since, the city of Pismo Beach has been working with homeowners and other agencies to reduce the risk of potential mudslides for the upcoming rainy season. 

“Hillsides are always going to present challenges whenever there is rain of any significant amount," said Jorge Garcia with the city of Pismo Beach. "So the risk is never 100 percent eliminated, but we can mitigate it.” 

Garcia said the public works department has been mitigating the risk by clearing out storm drains and vegetation along the creek bed. Crews are also working with CalTrans to provide concrete barriers to divert mudflows if they do come.

“A couple months back the city sent letters to the property owners and the homeowners association  to let them know of some of the best management practices in order to mitigate mudslides,” Garcia said.

The area's homeowners associations have set up straw logs behind homes to help intercept any possible water running down the slope.

Garcia said with the first forecasted rains expected to be light this weekend, that could actually be a good thing for the hillside. 

“It’ll allow the vegetation that is there to continue to root, which will help with stabilization if we do get heavier rains in the future,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the risk of a major mudslide is relatively low, unlike the mudslide in Montecito in 2018 responsible for 23 deaths. 

“One, the fire in our area burned for one day," Garcia said.  It did continue to burn for a couple days into the hillside, but the area that faces our properties only really burned for one day. It did not burn at a heat that took out a lot of the root systems.”

But still, Garcia said it's hard to know exactly how a hillside will react, so residents living along burn areas should be prepared.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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