- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2009

LOS ANGELES — Heavy rain tapered off, skies cleared, and residents of the Los Angeles-area foothills started returning home Sunday, a day after they fled because of fears that heavy rains would cause mudslides.

Public works and fire department officials drove through the wildfire-scarred neighborhoods early Sunday and determined that it was safe for the residents of the 44 evacuated homes in the La Crescenta, La Canada-Flintridge and Big Tujunga Canyon areas to return, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Lillian Peck said.

Fifteen patrol vehicles continued to make rounds in burn areas Sunday, scanning the hillsides for potential mudslides, said Brian Humphrey of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

“We’ve been planning for these winter storms since summer, since before the wildfires, coordinating with other agencies,” Mr. Humphrey said. “We’re confident that our preparedness really paid off. ”

Foothill areas below the burned sections of the Angeles National Forest were barricaded with sandbags and concrete barriers. Ground in recently burned areas has little ability to absorb rain, and the instant runoff during heavy rains can carry with it ash, mud, boulders and vegetation.

Mudslides and debris closed parts of a 12-mile stretch of the Angeles Crest Highway just north of Los Angeles, leaving 90 vehicles stranded for a time. No injuries were reported. The road remained closed Sunday.

Several small slides were reported on the highway between La Canada-Flintridge and Mount Wilson.

Forecasters said some rain was lingering Sunday along the Central Coast but most of the state would see dry weather through midweek.

“We got a few good dumpings over the past few days,” said Bonnie Bartling of the National Weather Service. “The system is on its way out, moving off to the east.”

Rainfall totals in the wildfire burn areas were less than meteorologists had feared. Just under 4 inches fell above Arcadia in a 24-hour period ending Sunday, and Mount Wilson got about 4.65 inches, according to unofficial NWS reports.

About 16,000 utility customers throughout Southern California were without electricity sporadically, mostly because of downed branches crashing onto power lines.

While problems in the lowlands eased, heavy snow in California’s mountains made driving difficult. The California Department of Transportation was requiring chains for travel on all major highways over the Sierra.

Snows between 8 and 16 inches fell above 6,000 feet in the Southern California mountains. Winds blew at 25 to 35 mph.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch through Sunday night for western Plumas County and the west slope of the Sierra Nevada in the north of the state and the mountains of Ventura and Los Angeles counties in the south.

The National Weather Service said another storm system will bring more heavy rain to Northern California late Tuesday and early Wednesday.

The new snow in the mountains is expected to give an early jump to building the snowpack, which is key to the region’s water supply, but forecasters say the snow also would bring avalanche danger to the back country.

Associated Press writer John S. Marshall in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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