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Fact Sheet 2005–3106
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Prepared in Cooperation with the California Geological Survey

Southern California—Wildfires and Debris Flows

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Wildland fires are inevitable in the western United States. Expansion of man-made developments into fire-prone wildlands has created situations where wildfires can destroy lives and property, as can the flooding and debris flows that are common in the aftermath of the fires. Fast-moving, highly destructive debris flows triggered by intense rainfall are one of the most dangerous post-fire hazards. Such debris flows are particularly dangerous because they tend to occur with little warning. Their mass and speed make them particularly destructive: debris flows can strip vegetation, block drainages, damage structures, and endanger human life.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Landslide Hazards Program is participating in a multi-agency cooperative effort to investigate debris flows in burned areas of southern California and other parts of the western United States. Participating agencies are the USDA Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the California, Colorado, and Montana Geological Surveys. The objective of this project is to develop methods needed to estimate the locations, probability of occurrence, and size of potentially destructive debris flows. Public officials can use this information to plan and execute emergency response and post-fire rehabilitation.

Analysis of data collected from studies of debris flows following wildfires can answer many of the questions fundamental to post-fire hazard assessments— what and why, where, when, how big, and how often?

Version 1.0

Posted September 2005

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