Southern California on guard as heavy rains may trigger mudslides

March 22 (Reuters) - The threat of dangerous mudslides will grow on Thursday as a storm rolls through coastal California, where thousands have fled from homes near hillsides that were stripped of vegetation by massive wildfires.

Intense rains of up to an inch (3 cm) per hour was forecast on Thursday morning for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, northwest of Los Angeles, where 25,000 people have evacuated in recent days, weather and local officials said.

"The storm has a lot of intensity behind it and has the potential to be life-threatening," said Amber Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara Fire Department. "The public, for the most part, has heeded the warnings for evacuations."

Wildfires last winter left California's coastline vulnerable to mudslides, by burning grass and shrubs that hold soil in place and baking a layer of earth that keeps rainwater from sinking deeply.

16 PHOTOS
The most devastating images from California's wildfires
See Gallery
The most devastating images from California's wildfires
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.
Fire fighters attack the Thomas Fire?s north flank with backfires as they continue to fight a massive wildfire north of Los Angeles, near Ojai , California, U.S., December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A firefighter is working on extinguishing the Lilac Fire, a fast moving wildfire, in Bonsall, California, U.S., December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Firefighters work at the top of a hill as the Lilac Fire burns through Bonsall, California, U.S., December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Firefighters battle to save one of many homes burning in an early-morning Creek Fire that broke out in the Kagel Canyon area in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, in Sylmar, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Fire engulfs horse stables after an early-morning Creek Fire that broke out in the Kagel Canyon area in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, in Sylmar, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop on the Lilac Fire, a fast moving wildfire in Bonsall, California, U.S., December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A horse which was left behind after an early-morning Creek Fire that broke out in the Kagel Canyon area in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, is seen in Sylmar, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
Burned up trees glow red in the dark after an early-morning Creek Fire that broke out in the Kagel Canyon area in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, in Sylmar, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
Firefighters battle flames from a Santa Ana wind-driven brush fire called the Thomas Fire in Santa Paula, California, December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
Area residents walk through a neighborhood destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
An aerial shows damage caused by wildfires in Santa Rosa, California, U.S October 11, 2017. Picture taken October 11, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase
A wildfire is shown from the air near Atlas Road during an operation to rescue people trapped by wildfire in Napa, California, U.S., October 9, 2017. Photo taken October 9, 2017. Courtesy California Highway Patrol/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
The Canyon Fire burns hillsides in Corona, California, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot
The Canyon Fire burns hillsides above houses in Corona, California, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/ Kyle Grillot
Firefighters watch a helicopter make a water drop on a wildfire burning behind the Getty Center in Mandeville Canyon in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 28, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Some 21 people were killed and dozens injured in mudslides on Jan. 9 after rain in and around the Santa Barbara County community of Montecito, 85 miles (137 km) northwest of Los Angeles.

The current storm began producing downpours on Tuesday night and continued on Wednesday. County officials said this storm is expected to produce far more rainfall than January's.

As California prepared for rain, the East Coast was digging out from the fourth major snowstorm this month, which closed schools, grounded flights and halted bus and train service across the region. Two people died in separate traffic crashes, local media reported. (Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, editing by Larry King)

Read Full Story