‘Atmospheric river’ could cause mudslides, flash flooding in Kern River Valley

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Communities in the Kern River Valley that just endured a grueling fire season face an altogether different danger Monday morning.

Heavy rain from the incoming ‘atmospheric river’ could put homes and lives at risk in burn scar areas — those areas burned through by the French Fire.

Officials have two major concerns about these areas. When the fires ripped through, they burned the vegetation away. The root networks that remain are weak, and there’s very little to anchor the soil, which can result in debris flows or mudslides.

That’s the first worry; the second is flash flooding. Ash and other particles created by the fire have saturated the soil and made it as water-repellent as asphalt in some cases. When up to an inch of rain falls on this soil, it races downhill and accumulates.

The National Weather Service has placed communities around Kernville and Lake Isabella on flash flood watch this morning. The NWS says a “good rule of thumb” is if you can look uphill and see a burn scar, you are at risk.

The best action to take for those in the path of possible mudslides would be to temporarily evacuate, according to the NWS — debris flows and flash floods often develop with little warning. If staying in the area, the NWS advises relocating to the topmost floor of your home or building and constructing a wall of sandbags to redirect flows around structures.

Residents of Wofford Heights and Pala Ranches, two areas being monitored by the Kern County Fire Department, can pick up sandbags at the Kern River Valley Senior Center, located at 6405 Lake Isabella Boulevard in Lake Isabella.

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