Devastation from California wildfires in Lake and Calaveras counties in 2015 prompted warnings about possible flooding with impending winter storms. The Valley Fire in Lake County burned 76,067 acres and 1,955 structures, including 1,281 homes, in September and October 2015.
Around the same time in Calaveras County, the Butte Fire consumed nearly 71,000 acres and damaged 475 homes, 343 outbuildings and 45 structures.
With those burn-scarred areas, the fear of flooding initiated a record-setting number of California residents to file for flood insurance, referred to as the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
“Preparation really is the key to resiliency,” said Mary Simms, External Affairs Officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Now is really the time for Californians to take steps to prepare for El Niño. One of the most powerful things property owners can do now is to buy flood insurance because you can’t purchase it at the last minute.”
According to FEMA, an increase of more than 20,000 new NFIP policies were written in California during the month of November 2015.
Recent data showed an increase of 28,084 new flood insurance policies purchased in California from Aug. 31 to Nov. 30 2015, FEMA reported on Jan. 6. “Large-scale wildfires can dramatically alter the landscape and ground conditions, which increase the risk of flooding within the burn and downstream areas,” Simms said.
Flood risk remains significantly higher until vegetation is restored – up to 5 years after a wildfire.
“The ground cover that helps trap and break down the rain, soaks in the moisture, and keeps the soil loose for better rain penetration are burned away and die during fires,” said Dave Miskus , a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center and Drought Specialist. “So the rains come down heavy, don’t soak into the soil as much, and cause large runoff which can mix with mud and cause landslides.”
The California Department of Conservation lists five types of landslides: rock slide, earth flow, debris slide, debris flow and rock fall.
Lake County noted that there was low potential for burn-scar flash flooding early Wednesday, though a series of storms are expected for the weekend and into next week.
“Without the widespread vegetation to protect people living near burned slopes, it will be difficult to stop mudslides if heavy rains occur,” Miskus stated.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) offers a series of preparatory tips for residents in burn-scarred areas:
Once the storm arrives, use these helpful suggestions:
An average flood policy costs around $705 a year, rates start at just $129 a year for homes in moderate- to low-risk areas, reported FEMA. In California, the average premium is approximately $850.
The higher average annual premium in California is due to the increased value of buildings compared to other parts of the United States.
Our thanks to Cal OES for this article.
Official information blog for the Lake County Office of Emergency Services