Notebook: Heavy rains in canyon a possible harbinger of things to come this winter


It was a blazing-hot afternoon last week when I saw the sign in Silverado Canyon:

El Nino Preparation & Evacuation Workshop

Wed. July 29, 7 p.m.

Silverado Community Center

Sweating during the midday heat, the sign struck me as weirdly ill timed.

After all, who thinks about winter rains during the oppressive heat of summer?

People who live in the canyons and foothills of Orange County — that’s who.

I recently moved back to Silverado Canyon, my home from 2007-2010.

Guess I’ve gotten rusty being away for five years.

Then Sunday came.

Yep, definitely rusty.

Photo: Greg Hardesty/Behind the Badge OC

Photo: Greg Hardesty/Behind the Badge OC

Buckets of rain drenched Silverado yesterday afternoon and evening, causing three separate debris flows that closed the last mile of Silverado Canyon Road before the two-lane road ends at the Maple Springs trailhead of the Cleveland National Forest.

Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputies were parked nearly outside the window of my home to keep motorists out of the closed area. About 300 yards up the canyon from my place, rocks, mud and debris had turned a section of Silverado Canyon Road into a messy, two-foot-deep river — more like a sludgy pond.

I know how deep it was because my landlord and I, perhaps stupidly, walked through it to check out the damage until we, gaining IQ points by the second, turned around when things got dicey. I lost my sandals (stupid idea to wear only sandals) in the mud and trudged back through the muck in my bare feet.

That’s what I mean by rusty: Being out of the canyon for a while had blinded me to just how dangerous the canyon can become during rains or fires.

I was living in Silverado in 2007 when residents were evacuated for 11 days during the Santiago Fire, which ended up chewing up nearly 30,000 acres of wildland. The arson-set blaze destroyed 12 houses in Santiago Canyon and injured 16 firefighters.

No one was hurt in or displaced by Sunday night’s mudslides (though one unnamed person who lost his flip-flops roughed up his feet and lower legs).

The unexpected mudslides (has it ever rained on July 19 before?) could be a relatively benign prelude to what’s in store this winter, which is expected to see a strong El Nino, according to meteorologists.

And a strong El Nino could mean heavy rains in Southern California and big problems in sunbaked canyons and recent burn areas. Sunday’s debris flows, in fact, originated from a north canyon wall near the burn area of last September’s Silverado Fire, which torched nearly 1,000 acres.

So this morning as I drove to work I looked at the sign with fresh eyes – and a renewed appreciation for firefighters, law enforcement and other first responders who save lives when disaster strikes.

And I penciled in a meeting to try to make this Wednesday evening.

O.C. Sheriff's deputy enforces closed section of Silverado Canyon Road on Sunday night. Photo: Greg Hardesty/Behind the Badge OC

An O.C. Sheriff’s Dept. deputy enforces a closed section of Silverado Canyon Road on Sunday night. Photo: Greg Hardesty/Behind the Badge OC