After fires, Southern California faces risk of mudslides

CARPINTERIA, Calif./LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Firefighters in Southern California are slowly gaining control of one of the largest wildfires in state history, but residents may not enjoy much relief as experts said the flames are laying the groundwork for the next disaster - mudslides.

The intense fire is burning away vegetation that holds the soil in place and baking a waxy layer into the earth that prevents the water from sinking more than a few inches into the ground, experts said.

With one heavy rain, the soil above this waterproof layer can become saturated, start to slide in hilly areas and transform into something catastrophic.

"Pretty much anywhere there's a fire on a steep slope, there's cause for concern," Jason Kean, research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, said in a telephone interview.

16 PHOTOS
Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara County
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Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara County
CARPINTERIA, CA - DECEMBER 12: A smoke-filled sky filter orange light around surfers as the Thomas Fire continues to grow and threaten communities from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara on December 12, 2017 in Carpinteria, California. The Thomas Fire has spread across 365 miles so far and destroyed about 800 structures since it began on December 5 in Ojai, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
MONTECITO, CA - DECEMBER 12: Firefighters watch flames as the Thomas Fire approaches homes on December 12, 2017 in Montecito, California. The Thomas Fire has spread across 365 miles so far and destroyed about 800 structures since it began on December 5 in Ojai, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
MONTECITO, CA - DECEMBER 12: The glow of approaching flames is seen at the gates of an expensive home as the Thomas Fire continues to grow on December 12, 2017 in Montecito, California. The Thomas Fire has spread across 365 miles so far and destroyed about 800 structures since it began on December 5 in Ojai, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
CARPINTERIA, CA - DECEMBER 12: A smoke-filled sky filters sunlight to orange around shorebirds as the Thomas Fire continues to grow and threaten communities from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara on December 12, 2017 in Carpinteria, California. The Thomas Fire has spread across 365 miles so far and destroyed about 800 structures since it began on December 5 in Ojai, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - The charred remains of vehicles at a home in the Toro Canyon hillsides north of Santa Barbara, California on December 12, 2017. Crews battling wildfires ravaging southern California for a week have managed to slow the spread of the worst of the blazes, officials said Tuesday, as residents were taking stock of the catastrophic damage. The biggest 'Thomas' fire has charred nearly 95,000 hectares (234,000 acres) of land and is only 20 percent contained, according to the state agency Calfire. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
MONTECITO, CA - DECEMBER 12: The Thomas Fire approaches a home on December 12, 2017 in Montecito, California. The Thomas Fire has spread across 365 miles so far and destroyed about 800 structures since it began on December 5 in Ojai, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA, THOMAS WILDFIRE - DECEMBER 12, 2017: This is a DigitalGlobe infra-red satellite imagery of the Thomas wildfire east of Santa Barbara, California. The red indicates unburnt vegitation. (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)
Smoke from the Thomas Fire is seen from Santa Paula, California as it rises over Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, December 12, 2017. The Thomas Fire, the fifth largest in California history, has burned through 236,000 acres and is 25 percent contained, according to Calfire. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
MONTECITO, CA - DECEMBER 12: A whirlwind of embers is seen as the Thomas Fire approaches homes on December 12, 2017 in Montecito, California. The Thomas Fire has spread across 365 miles so far and destroyed about 800 structures since it began on December 5 in Ojai, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Thomas wildfire burns above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon in this social media photo by Santa Barbara County Fire Department in Montecito, California, U.S. December 12, 2017. Courtesy Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Thomas wildfire burns above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon in this social media photo by Santa Barbara County Fire Department in Montecito, California, U.S. December 12, 2017. Courtesy Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A fishing boat departs the harbor as wildfire smoke darkens the sunrise on the Pacific Ocean during the Thomas fire in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
Santa Barbara County firefighters clean equipment and look at maps before fighting wildfires during the Thomas fire in Carpinteria, California, U.S. December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
Stearns Wharf stands as wildfire smoke darkens the sunrise during the Thomas fire in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
People stand on a roof of a home illuminated with Christmas lights to watch wildfire on a hillside burn during the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara county near Carpinteria, California, U.S. December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
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And the Thomas Fire, which has burned 234,000 acres and destroyed nearly 700 homes in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, is definitely in landslide country.

"If we get hard rain, there are going to be terrible landslides in the burn areas," Carla D'Antonio, chairman of University of California, Santa Barbara's environmental studies program, said in an email.

"It doesn't take a lot of rain to get the soil and rock moving, so to have burned soil on top of this and no significant plant cover creates huge potential for landslides," she added.

Among the cities at risk is Santa Barbara, with 92,000 people, as well as the smaller communities of Carpinteria, Ojai and Summerland.

"It's terrifying," Jamey Geston, 19, of Carpinteria, said of possible mudslides. "I am just taking it one natural disaster at a time at this point and try to get through it."

58 PHOTOS
Skirball Fire in Bel-Air, California
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Skirball Fire in Bel-Air, California
Flames are seen behind a Bel Air mansion threatened by the Skirball Fire in west Los Angeles, California on December 6, 2017. California motorists commuted past a blazing inferno Wednesday as wind-whipped wildfires raged across the Los Angeles region, with flames triggering the closure of a major freeway and mandatory evacuations in an area dotted with mansions. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
BEL AIR - DECEMBER 07: Members of Crew 3 head up a hill behind a home to do mop up work from the Skirball fire along Moraga Drive in Bel Air on December 7, 2017. Crew 3 are part of the Los Angeles Fire Department's cadet program and volunteer their time while working on fires. (Photo by Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
BEL-AIR, CA - DECEMBER 6: Firefighters try and save a home along Linda Flora Dr. in Bel Air, where the Skirball fire prompted a full closure of the 405 Freeway as well as mandatory evacuations in an area of multimillion-dollar homes on December 6, 2017 in Bel-Air, California. (Photo by Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 06: Interstate 405 is deserted after being closed during rush hour in an area near the Skirball Fire on December 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Strong Santa Ana winds are rapidly pushing multiple wildfires across the region, expanding across tens of thousands of acres and destroying hundreds of homes and structures. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Firefighters work to save burning houses along Linda Flora Drive during the Skirball Fire in Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. The 'Skirball' fire ignited before 5 a.m. (1300 GMT) and quickly engulfed some 50 acres, with forecasters predicting the 25-mile-per-hour winds could cause further spreading, threatening multi-million dollar homes and the acclaimed Getty Center museum. / AFP PHOTO / Kyle Grillot (Photo credit should read KYLE GRILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
A person carrying a skateboard wears a face mask to protect against smoke coming from the Skirball Fire in the upscale Bel-Air section of west Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. California motorists commuted past a blazing inferno as wind-whipped wildfires raged across the Los Angeles region, with flames triggering the closure of a major freeway and mandatory evacuations in an area dotted with mansions. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A firefighter walks through a property while working to save homes during the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Fast-moving�fires�fanned by high winds in Southern California charred 50,000 acres of land, and prompted a shut down of the Interstate 405 highway as they moved closer to Los Angeles. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A home burns as a wildfire, dubbed the Skirball Fire, moves through a wealthy neighborhood, on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
Smoke from the Skirball Fire rises above the 405 freeway near the Bel Aire area of Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A building on the vineyard estate of media mogul Rupert Murdoch catches fire during the Skirball fire in Bel Air, a wealthy neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
Homes catch fire as a wildfire dubbed the Skirball Fire moves through a wealthy neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
A fire department helicopter makes a water drop building on the vineyard estate of media mogul Rupert Murdoch catches fire during the Skirball fire in Bel Air, a wealthy neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
Smoke left from the Skirball fire rises over a home near the Bel Air neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
A firefighter controls flames burning in a home at the Skirball Fire in the upscale Bel- Air section of west Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. California motorists commuted past a blazing inferno Wednesday as wind-whipped wildfires raged across the Los Angeles region, with flames triggering the closure of a major freeway and mandatory evacuations in an area dotted with mansions. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke left from the Skirball fire rises over homes near the Bel Air neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
A helicopter drops water on hotspots left by the Skirball fire near the Bel Air neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
A firefighter stands watch outside of a vineyard owned by Rupert Murdoch damaged by the Skirball fire near the Bel Air neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
Elizabeth Rawjee sprays water from a garden hose onto hotspots left by the Skirball fire in her backyard on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
BEL-AIR, CA - DECEMBER 6: Firefighters try and save a home from the Skirball fire along Linda Flora Drive on December 6, 2017 in Bel-Air, California. (Photo by Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A helicopter drops water on a vineyard owned by Rupert Murdoch damaged by the Skirball fire near the Bel Air neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
A fire team hand crew descends a steep slope to prevent fire from jumping to the west side of the 405 freeway, at the Skirball Fire along the 405 freeway near the Bel Air area of Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A firefighter walks out of a vineyard owned by Rupert Murdoch damaged by the Skirball fire near the Bel Air neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
Smoke rises from a home damaged by the Skirball fire near the Bel Air neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
BEL AIR, CA - DECEMBER 07: Firefighter Bobby D'Amico looks over a home that survived the Skirball fire in Bel-Air on December 7, 2017. The fire came to within yards of the home. (Photo by Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
BEL AIR, USA - DECEMBER 6: Home owners watch as the Skirball Fire burns Wednesday, December 6, 2017 in Bel Air, California, United States. Interstate 405 was shutdown North of Westwood as the fire neared the road. (Photo by Justin L. Stewart/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Firefighters spray water on a home's deck during the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. Fast-moving�fires�fanned by high winds in Southern California charred 50,000 acres of land, and prompted a shut down of the Interstate 405 highway as they moved closer to Los Angeles. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Flames burn from a destroyed home's natural gas line during the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. Fast-moving�fires�fanned by high winds in Southern California charred 50,000 acres of land, and prompted a shut down of the Interstate 405 highway as they moved closer to Los Angeles. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A burned-out car sits outside a destroyed home during the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. Fast-moving�fires�fanned by high winds in Southern California charred 50,000 acres of land, and prompted a shut down of the Interstate 405 highway as they moved closer to Los Angeles. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Charred oranges hang from a burnt tree during the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. Fast-moving�fires�fanned by high winds in Southern California charred 50,000 acres of land, and prompted a shut down of the Interstate 405 highway as they moved closer to Los Angeles. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The columns of a destroyed home stand among rubble during the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. Fast-moving�fires�fanned by high winds in Southern California charred 50,000 acres of land, and prompted a shut down of the Interstate 405 highway as they moved closer to Los Angeles. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BEL AIR, CA - DECEMBER 07: Firefighter Bobby D'Amico looks out over the Getty Center while monitoring the scene over Bel-Air where the Skirball fire has destroyed homes on December 7, 2017. (Photo by Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
BEL AIR, CA - DECEMBER 07: A hotspot flares up next to a mansion remnants of the Skirball fire in Bel-Air on December 7, 2017. (Photo by Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
BEL AIR, CA - DECEMBER 07: Firefighters Bobby D'Amico, from left, Matt Streeter and Captain Bob Williams look out over a charred Bel-Air caused by the Skirball fire along Linda Flora Drive in Bel Air on December 7, 2017. (Photo by Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
BEL AIR - DECEMBER 07: A mansion stands near the charred hillside caused by the Skirball fire in Bel-Air on December 7, 2017. (Photo by Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Smoke rises from destroyed homes during the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Fast-moving�fires�fanned by high winds in Southern California charred 50,000 acres of land, and prompted a shut down of the Interstate 405 highway as they moved closer to Los Angeles. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A firefighter loads belongings into the trunk of a resident's Bentley as she evacuates her Bel Air home, at the the Skirball Fire in west Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. California motorists commuted past a blazing inferno Wednesday as wind-whipped wildfires raged across the Los Angeles region, with flames triggering the closure of a major freeway and mandatory evacuations in an area dotted with mansions. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
BEL AIR, USA - DECEMBER 6: Police guard the entrance to the north bound lane of Interstate 405 in Westwood as the Skirball Fire burns Wednesday, December 6, 2017 in Bel Air, California, United States. Interstate 405 was shutdown North of Westwood as the fire neared the road. (Photo by Justin L. Stewart/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BEL AIR, USA - DECEMBER 6: Smoke begins to cloud around the Getty Center as the Skirball Fire burns Wednesday, December 6, 2017 in Bel Air, California, United States. Interstate 405 was shutdown North of Westwood as the fire neared the road. (Photo by Justin L. Stewart/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Flames are seen behind a Bel Air mansion threatened by the Skirball Fire in west Los Angeles, California on December 6, 2017. California motorists commuted past a blazing inferno Wednesday as wind-whipped wildfires raged across the Los Angeles region, with flames triggering the closure of a major freeway and mandatory evacuations in an area dotted with mansions. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A firefighter loads belongings into the trunk of a resident's Bentley as she evacuates her Bel Air home, at the the Skirball Fire in west Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. California motorists commuted past a blazing inferno Wednesday as wind-whipped wildfires raged across the Los Angeles region, with flames triggering the closure of a major freeway and mandatory evacuations in an area dotted with mansions. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises from a hotspot left by the Skirball fire in a vineyard owned by Rupert Muroch near the Bel Air neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
BEL-AIR, CA - DECEMBER 6: The bedroom of a home is engulfed in flames from the Skirball fire along Linda Flora Drive on December 6, 2017 in Bel-Air, California. (Photo by Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A firefighter sprays water onto vegetation while working to save homes during the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Fast-moving�fires�fanned by high winds in Southern California charred 50,000 acres of land, and prompted a shut down of the Interstate 405 highway as they moved closer to Los Angeles. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Flames from the Skirball Fire spread on a hillside in a wealthy neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
Firefighters work to save burning houses along Linda Flora Drive during the Skirball Fire in Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. The 'Skirball' fire ignited before 5 a.m. (1300 GMT) and quickly engulfed some 50 acres, with forecasters predicting the 25-mile-per-hour winds could cause further spreading, threatening multi-million dollar homes and the acclaimed Getty Center museum. / AFP PHOTO / Kyle Grillot (Photo credit should read KYLE GRILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters work to save burning houses along Linda Flora Drive during the Skirball Fire in Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. The 'Skirball' fire ignited before 5 a.m. (1300 GMT) and quickly engulfed some 50 acres, with forecasters predicting the 25-mile-per-hour winds could cause further spreading, threatening multi-million dollar homes and the acclaimed Getty Center museum. / AFP PHOTO / Kyle Grillot (Photo credit should read KYLE GRILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
A house is threatened by wildfire along Linda Flora Drive during the Skirball Fire in Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. The 'Skirball' fire ignited before 5 a.m. (1300 GMT) and quickly engulfed some 50 acres, with forecasters predicting the 25-mile-per-hour winds could cause further spreading, threatening multi-million dollar homes and the acclaimed Getty Center museum. / AFP PHOTO / Kyle Grillot (Photo credit should read KYLE GRILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
A truck drives south on the 405 freeway as a fire team hand crew descends a steep slope to prevent fire from jumping to the west side of the freeway, at the Skirball Fire along the 405 freeway near the Bel Aire area of Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighter work to save burning houses along Linda Flora Drive during the Skirball Fire in Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. The 'Skirball' fire ignited before 5 a.m. (1300 GMT) and quickly engulfed some 50 acres, with forecasters predicting the 25-mile-per-hour winds could cause further spreading, threatening multi-million dollar homes and the acclaimed Getty Center museum. / AFP PHOTO / Kyle Grillot (Photo credit should read KYLE GRILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters work to save burning houses along Linda Flora Drive during the Skirball Fire in Los Angeles, California, December 6, 2017. The 'Skirball' fire ignited before 5 a.m. (1300 GMT) and quickly engulfed some 50 acres, with forecasters predicting the 25-mile-per-hour winds could cause further spreading, threatening multi-million dollar homes and the acclaimed Getty Center museum. / AFP PHOTO / Kyle Grillot (Photo credit should read KYLE GRILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters put out burning embers near hilltop homes in Bel Air, east of the 405 freeway heading north on December 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. California motorists commuted past a blazing inferno as wind-whipped wildfires raged across the Los Angeles region, with flames triggering the closure of a major freeway and mandatory evacuations in an area dotted with mansions. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
The morning commute traffic comes to a standstill on the 405 North as smoke can be seen from burning homes in Bel Air on December 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. California motorists commuted past a blazing inferno as wind-whipped wildfires raged across the Los Angeles region, with flames triggering the closure of a major freeway and mandatory evacuations in an area dotted with mansions. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
A huge plume of black smoke rises from a burning home on a hilltop beside one still standing in Bel Air, east of the 405 freeway on December 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. California motorists commuted past a blazing inferno as wind-whipped wildfires raged across the Los Angeles region, with flames triggering the closure of a major freeway and mandatory evacuations in an area dotted with mansions. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
BEL-AIR, CA - DECEMBER 6: Firefighters try and save a home along Linda Flora Dr. in Bel Air, where the Skirball fire prompted a full closure of the 405 Freeway as well as mandatory evacuations in an area of multimillion-dollar homes on December 6, 2017 in Bel-Air, California. (Photo by Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A firefighter stands beside a Christmas tree rescued from a burning home during the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. Fast-moving�fires�fanned by high winds in Southern California charred 50,000 acres of land, and prompted a shut down of the Interstate 405 highway as they moved closer to Los Angeles. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BEL AIR, CA - DECEMBER 07: David Thompson and his dog Blue wait, along with other Bel-Air residents, for a police escort to check on a friend's home on Moraga Drive which is still under evacuation orders due to the Skirball fire in Bel Air on December 7, 2017. (Photo by Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A burnt out house is seen after the Skirball wildfire swept through the exclusive enclave of Bel Air, California on December 7, 2017. Local emergency officials warned of powerful winds on December 7 that will feed wildfires raging in Los Angeles, threatening multi-million dollar mansions with blazes that have already forced more than 200,000 people to flee. / AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
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Once the fire is out, more work will begin as officials will likely need to rush to build retention basins and other structures to prevent debris flows before the rainy season begins, said Professor Nicholas Pinter of University of California, Davis' Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

"This is exactly the thing we worry about in the winter following an event like the Thomas Fire," he said by telephone.

Another large concern is the potential damage to water quality, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said in a telephone interview.

Heavy rainfall could bring lots of silt to waterways like Lake Cachuma, where barriers are already being erected, as well as unwanted matter, she said. In 2007, after the massive Zaca Fire, Santa Barbara spent more than $1 million on extra cleaning and filtration systems.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state could defray some costs with grants, but the best outcome would be "a nice, calm, intermittent rain," Schneider said.

"We don't see any rain in the immediate forecast, which is a curse and a blessing," she said. "We could use the water to fight the fire, but we don't want some kind of big downpour that would cause significant mudslides so soon after the area's been burnt to nothing."

(Reporting by Ben Gruber and Alex Dobuzinskis, Writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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