Fires, Floods and Slides: What You Can Do  

Treehouse and TentThe good news is that your treasured Southern California family mountain get-away cabin or beautiful second home in the forest survived a wild fire last year.  The question is what will happen this summer when thunderstorms strike or when normal rainfall resumes after our La Nina drought cycle ends?  Is your home also safe from potential mud slides and flooding?  What can you do about it?

The fire cycle in our mountains changes everything, especially for home owners.  While your home itself didn’t burn, did your property’s slopes burn?  What about nearby hillsides and the canyons higher up? Did they burn or are the trees, shrubs and other plants still in place and growing green in the drought?  How did the neighboring properties surrounding your home do?  Did they burn or are they all intact?

Forest FireFor property owners, the normal first reaction to surviving a fire in the mountains is a big sigh of relief.  Don’t get too comfortable; however, because we’ll say it again that fire changes everything. Sometimes, fire damage in the mountains is only the beginning of bigger issues to come with heavy snow run-off, spring rain or summer monsoons.  The only thing we know about the weather is that it will change, but when or how we don’t know.

Lightning StrikesIf you’re a mountain property owner, early June and July are the months that Helfrich Associates recommends reviewing fire clearance and drainage issues.  You must be sure the area around your home is clear of dead trees, shrubs, grasses and any other organic material that can catch fire.  If you still have an old wood shingle or composite roofing material, it’s time to upgrade to the newest fire-resistant roofing materials to protect your home.

Tractor in MudDuring the early to mid-summer months the weather can change in the blink of an eye.  The monsoon season typically hits in mid-July through August with lightning strikes and brief deluges that can lead to flash flooding and or mud slides.  Now is the time to clean your home or cabin gutters and look for signs of unusual dried-up sunken puddling, open voids in the soil, run-off flow debris or rocks that have dislodged and rolled down from the property above or below your cabin or home.

Rainbow After StormAt Helfrich Associates, our engineers have performed a number of slope stability assessments in the mountain communities of Southern California, as well as the nearby more densely populated foothill communities.  Homeowners in both communities often have many insurance coverage questions when it comes to fires, flooding and mud slides.  The short answer is that in our experience it all depends on your insurance company and your policy.

Boot in MudHaving said that, the typical homeowner’s policy covers fire damage, and it might or might not cover mud slides after a fire incident.  Flood insurance, however, typically requires a separate insurance policy that is not necessarily available in all areas, especially in those areas that are prone to flooding, or where the cost is prohibitively high to discourage building.

Cabin in the WoodsHelfrich Associates has performed slope stability assessments for homeowners and for insurance companies in mountain and foothill communities. They have been performed both prior to the construction of homes, remodeling or expansion and after there has been a fire, slope slippage, a mud slide or flooding as part of the clean-up process.

Our expertise in geology allows us to conduct a thorough analysis of the soils, slopes and general landscape to make recommendations to shore up or stabilize areas that could be a current or future hazard.  Some beautiful properties, unfortunately for the owners, are not always suitable for initial construction or rebuilding after a fire, mudslide or flood.

The unstable conditions or actual damage to a property, lot or surrounding area can be too great to risk re-building.  The scope and cost to stabilize some properties and the surrounding area can be impractical for any number of reasons or just way too expensive.  We hate to deliver such bad news, but we recognize when not building or re-building is the right decision to make and will prevent future homeowner heartbreak or financial loss.

So if long-distance travel is off your list again this summer, we suggest spending some time outdoors looking for potential drainage issues around your mountain cabin or home.  If you are concerned, our team of professional, licensed engineers is here to help.  Many times small adjustments to landscape or drainage systems can prevent major problems later on during our wacky fire and weather seasons in Southern California.

We have designed and built some unbelievable retaining walls and successfully addressed issues with homes that are settling or on unstable lots that have decided to move downhill. (Think mountain or beach cliff houses.)  Our best advice for homeowners is to be proactive, take action sooner rather than later or before more drastic (expensive) solutions are required.

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