Rainstorms leave Glendora but protective barriers stay behind

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Several days of storms dumped three to four inches of rain in the foothill community of Glendora, forcing some residents to evacuate muddy neighborhoods. But as the storms move on, concrete barriers installed along street curbs to protect homes will remain a fixture.

The city of Glendora will keep 1.6 miles of white concrete barriers, also known as K-rails, installed along the streets of some neighborhoods for three-to-five years.

Glendora city manager Chris Jeffers said L.A. County fire and U.S. Forest experts warned that, after January’s Colby Fire, the community was at risk of mudslides because of the major loss of vegetation on the hillsides.

“Emergency plans have to be based on worst case scenario,” Jeffers said at a Saturday afternoon news conference. “We are going to have more rainstorms.”

City crews installed the K-rails Thursday, the day before the storms rolled in. They also handed out more than 50,000 bags of sand to residents for buffering driveways and homes. Jeffers told residents to keep the sandbags, too.

“I know they may not be the most aesthetically pleasing thing to have, but we want you to keep those,” he said. “I don’t have a place to store 50,000 bags.”

Mandatory evacuations were ordered Thursday afternoon for about 1,000 homes in the 2.75-mile perimeter of the Colby Fire impact area, bounded by Yucca Ridge in the west to Loraine Avenue in the east, and the streets north of Sierra Madre Avenue.

Many of the residents who left stayed in nearby hotels, but most — like Julia Cushman, who lives on Rainbow Road — hunkered down at home.

“We’re on higher ground here," she said. "Our house was not affected by the 1969 mudslides."

In 1969, a major mudslide in Glendora filled several homes and backyards on Rainbow Road with 4 to 8 feet of sludge. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that 175 houses were damaged by debris flows, causing nearly $27 million in damage and dozens of deaths.

Jeff Emery and his wife, Trish, bought their house 27 years ago from a man who lived through the mudslide. He said the owner told him about 4 feet of mud oozed inside the house.

“Thousand-pound boulders,” he said, pointing to two rocks in his front yard. “Those were swept down in the ’69 flood.”

The boulders now accent a tall pine tree at the edge of the Emerys' driveway, but this year’s storm will leave behind less natural-looking mementos — the concrete K-rails.

“You know, ... it obviously protects us,” Jeff Emery said.

His wife added: “We were thinking about putting some light posts at the ends."

Four basins were built in Glendora after the 1969 mudslides to collect and catch debris flowing downhill. After the Colby Fire, the city of Glendora implemented an emergency preparedness plan that called for having K-rails and sandbags ready to be installed for the next heavy storm.   

City officials said they would work to keep the concrete barriers in front of houses clean and clear of markings and graffiti.

Jeff Emery said the K-rail could affect home values because of the lack of curbside appeal, but he added when you’re looking for a beautiful home at the foothill of a mountain, you also understand the risk of fires, mudslides and flooding.

“You go with the flow,” he said. “Whatever it takes.”

Cleaning up

Meanwhile, clean-up efforts were underway in Glendora and Azusa.

In Glendora, about five structures were damaged by storm debris — none of them were homes. That's according to a preliminary assessment by the city.

The city's month-long planning following January's Colby Fire helped save homes threatened by mudslides, Jeffers told KPCC, noting in particular the sandbags and help from volunteers.

In Azusa, at least one home was damaged so much by a mudslide that residents were told it was unsafe to inhabit.

More than 10 inches of rain fell in the fire-scarred mountains above Glendora and Azusa.

This story has been updated.

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