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California Rainy Season Begins; Wildfires Increase Risk of Flash Flooding

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Debris flow and erosion following 2014 King Fire in Eldorado National Forest.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

As the rainy season begins in California, so too does the potential for dangerous flash flooding. That’s especially true for areas burned by wildfires. Some wildfires that occurred just last year in Lake County and the coastal ranges of California need as little as a half inch of rain in an hour to cause erosion and debris flows.

“Just because you aren’t in the burn scar doesn’t mean that you’re not at risk," says Michelle Mead with the National Weather Service. "If you’re downstream of that burn scar, if we do get a flash flooding event, that could actually impact you with just the water runoff and/or debris flow.”

Severely burned soil can also increase the rate and frequency of water runoff, says Drew Coe, a hydrologist with Cal Fire. 

"We have research going on in the Valley Fire, which burned in 2015, that indicates severely burned areas are producing up to 15 times higher rates of runoff than areas with lower soil burn severity,"says Coe.

California agencies are using a new computer monitoring tool to understand ground conditions in real-time, including areas burned by wildfire.

As of October 15th, wildfires have burned more than a half million acres in California.
Joint Operation Center - p
State-Federal Flood Operations Center in Sacramento, CA.  Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

A list of recommended preparation steps and resources can be found at FloodPrepareCA.com

An online educational video shows recent catastrophic flooding after fire events across California.