Calif. Mudslides Leave 15 Dead

Heavy rains in southern California have caused mudslides in some areas, killing at least 15 people and trapping hundreds. The deluge of mud now covering homes, businesses and freeways are the result of heavy rains washing away ground laid bare by the Thomas Fire—the state’s largest wildfire to-date—which burned more than 280,000 acres in December.
Many of those who had returned home after the wildfires have been evacuated for mudslides. The New York Times wrote:

As the mud rushed into lower-lying neighborhoods in Montecito, a wealthy hillside community where many celebrities have homes, the power went out and gas lines were severed, said Thomas Tighe, a resident. Officials said Tuesday night that it could be several days before gas service would be restored. They also said power failures were affecting more than 6,000 homes and businesses in the area, adding that many parts of Montecito were without drinkable water.

Driving rain started at about 3:00 a.m. on Jan. 9. By Tuesday, more than 5.5 inches of rain had fallen in parts of Ventura County, the National Weather Service said.  A mandatory evacuation order for about 7,000 residents was issued by Santa Barbara County officials, but many would not leave. As a result, people were trapped in homes and cars and on rooftops by fast-moving rivers of thick mud carrying trees and debris.
CNN reported that dozens of people have been rescued in Santa Barbara County, including a 14-year-old girl trapped beneath a house, and that parts of US 101 in Santa Barbara and Montecito have been closed.

Mudslides are not uncommon in the area, especially following wildfires, and they can be deadly. In January 2005, a landslide struck La Conchita in Ventura County, killing 10 people.

Wildfires a Reminder to Update Disaster Preparedness Plans

Raging across the country, threatening businesses and residences alike, wildfires are a reality, burning a reported 1.9 million acres in the U.S. so far this year. West of Santa Barbara, firefighters have battled an intense fire for almost a week. Wildfires are also burning in Arizona and New Mexico. In Canada, the Fort McMurray blaze burned for weeks and scorched some 2,400 square miles of land—more than 1.4 million acres. In five of the past 10 years, in fact, wildfires have ranked among the top 20 worldwide loss events.

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Companies that haven’t already done so may want to assess the impact such a disaster could have on their business as well as what actions can be taken to mitigate damage. While most businesses believe they are prepared for a fire, especially if their building is equipped with fire alarms, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and an evacuation plan, these measures may not be enough when stress and confusion take over, according to Interstate.

Organizations could face utility interruption, impacting gas and phone syDocument recovery3stems; they may have flooding from sprinklers, which, mixed with soot, can cause other complications; there may be smoke damage, which can by carried throughout a building through air conditioning systems; and there can be chemical residue from fire suppression systems.

There also may be asbestos hazards from older building materials, ceiling and floor tiles and pipe insulation.

Planning ahead for data loss resulting from damaged computers and burned paper documents is also advised.

Interstate lists four questions companies need to ask in advance of such a disaster:
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Wildfires Ravage Southern California

A state of emergency has been declared in California as an out of control wildfire spreads through the Los Angeles foothills. It has been reported that the fire “nearly doubled in size overnight” with total acreage burned amounting to 35,000.

“These fires are still totally out of control,” California Gov. Schwarzenegger said at the fire’s command post in Lakeview Terrace. “This is a huge and very dangerous fire. The fire is moving very close to homes and to structures.”

The fires are currently threatening more than 12,000 buildings and residents of 10,000 homes have been told to evacuate. 2,000 firefighters are working to contain the blaze as the weather forecast projects continued hot, dry weather. Two firefighters died Sunday when their vehicle rolled off a hillside near Mount Gleason in the Angeles National Forest.

The most costly wildfire to date is the 1991 Oakland, California fire, which resulted in estimated insured losses of $2.7 billion (in 2008 dollars). The National Interagency Coordination Center lists the top ten states for wildland fires, ranked by number of fires for 2008:

  1. Texas                        16,713       1,570,586
  2. California                  5,812          1,339,839
  3. Oklahoma                 5,572          196,563
  4. Georgia                     5,454          23,081
  5. North Carolina          4,414           95,938
  6. Alabama                   3,103           32,447
  7. Florida                      2,939           156,102
  8. South Carolina         2,626           15,751
  9. Mississippi               1,898           27,399
  10. Arizona                     1,850           85,496

The Insurance Information Institute states that “most of the large fires with significant property damage have occurred in California, where some of the fastest developing counties are in forest areas.” Stay tuned as we continue to post updates on the wildfire situation, and the losses resulting from it.