- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

LOS ANGELES | Rains swept across Southern California on Wednesday, bringing flash-flood warnings to areas already burned by wildfire and threatening thousands of residents whose homes were spared by flames that they could now face destructive mudslides.

A torrent of early morning showers prompted an evacuation order in Orange County, where at least 1,500 people in Yorba Linda were told to leave their homes.

“Nothing has gone down yet, but the rain met the threshold where we needed to get people out,” Orange County Fire Department Capt. Greg McKeown said.

Voluntary evacuations had already been recommended in the city of 65,000 southeast of Los Angeles, which was torched by a huge fire earlier this month.

In another wildfire-ravaged area in Santa Barbara County, an evacuation order affecting up to 2,200 homes remained in effect Wednesday morning after light rain had fallen in the area for several hours. Many residents had to evacuate for the second time in a month.

“The fire wiped out all vegetation and the soil is very unstable,” said county spokesman William Boyer. “We’re talking about some very steep slopes up there.”

In San Diego, flooding forced the closure of northbound lanes of Interstate 5 for several hours Wednesday morning after at least two vehicles hydroplaned and crashed, the biggest of several traffic-snarling closures as morning rush hour and a rush of Thanksgiving travel arrived.

Flash-flood warnings were issued Wednesday morning in wildfire-charred areas in Ventura, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties.

In northern Los Angeles County rain fell at nearly an inch per hour early Wednesday before dissipating as dawn approached.

Homeowners hurriedly began stacking sandbags on Tuesday, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered state agencies to prepare to aid local agencies in case of disaster.

“The state stands ready to help local governments protect lives and property,” he said.

A low-pressure area off the coast was heading northeast and could bring an inch of rain through Thanksgiving and up to 4 inches in the mountains, said Stan Wasowski, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in San Diego.

A series of wildfires stoked by Santa Ana winds damaged or destroyed about 1,000 homes in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino counties this month. Combined, the burn areas totaled about 65 square miles. In October, wildfires burned dozens more homes and scorched the equivalent of more than 35 square miles. Other areas remain scarred from fires in recent years.

Without the fire-related risks, rain might be appreciated in parched Southern California. Downtown Los Angeles had recorded only .27 inch of precipitation since the July 1 start of the rain year - 1.35 inches below normal for this time.

cAP writers Raquel Maria Dillon, James Beltran and Andrew Dalton contributed to this report.

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