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California Storm May Bring Mudslides In King Fire Area

Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

Small debris flow from King Fire on Forebay Road near Pollock Pines.

Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

Work crews in the Eldorado National Forest are throwing rocks down a hill to help secure a metal cover over a culvert. They want to prevent large falling debris from clogging the culvert and flooding roadways.

Twenty-three percent of the soil in the nearly 100-thousand acre King Fire burned severely, making it more susceptible to mudslides.

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Eric Nicita a soil scientist with the US Forest Service, says the drought makes the potential for mudslides worse because the soil repels water rather than absorbing it.

"Currently through some of the burned areas we're dusty dry down below an inch. That's going to really exacerbate some of the runoff problems that we're going to have, some of the watershed issues that we're going to have."

He says the weather has prevented them from dropping more mulch from helicopters to slow erosion.

"There's the mechanism in place that if we had an extended dry period we could continue mulching, but that's not in the forseeable future. How much have we've done? Maybe a quarter of the acres that we prescribed," says Nicita.

The Forest Service will be watching for mudslides all winter long. Eroding soil could damage nearby hydropower plants and waterways.