Person still missing, 30 homes destroyed or damaged by mudslides in Forest Falls, Oak Glen – San Bernardino Sun

Firefighters and search-and-rescue teams continued their search on Wednesday, Sept. 14, two days after a person was unaccounted for after mud and debris flowed through Forest Falls and Oak Glen following an intense thunderstorm.

An estimated 30 homes were damaged or destroyed in the debris flows, and 3,000 residents were affected in some fashion, San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe said at a Wednesday press conference at the Yucaipa Community Center.

“We are going to do everything we can to help the community recover from this disaster,” she said.

A dog was found alive in a void spot inside of the home damaged by mud and debris in which they were searching for the missing person, according to Eric Sherwin, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department. By 4 p.m., the missing person had not yet been located, Sherwin said.

120 people were involved in the search, according to Sherwin.

Fire officials said the mud and debris flows stemmed from the El Dorado fire, which erupted in September 2020 and burned nearly 23,000 acres.

“This event actually started two years and nine days ago,” Fire Department Division Chief Jim Topoleski said. “The hillsides were denuded of vegetation that held back the watershed and prevented water, over the years, from flowing in a high-capacity manner.”

Since then, fire crews and public works officials prepared for the possibility of mud and debris flows by consulting hydrologists and an emergency watershed response team that went out and tested the soil and looked at the vegetation in order to give county officials an “educated instruction on what’s going to happen if we get a heavy rain,” Cal Fire Chief Grant Malinowski said.

That heavy rain came Monday, bringing an extremely large downpour that led to the mud and debris flows, Topoleski said.

“The system was overwhelmed,” he said.

San Bernardino County officials were preparing to seek federal and state assistance, Rowe said.

For now, the biggest concern is the missing person.

“That is our focus,” Topoleski said. “That is our mission for today.”

Evacuation orders were lifted, but some roadways remained open only to local residents.

With the reduction in evacuation orders, the American Red Cross on Wednesday closed the evacuation center it had set up at Redlands East Valley High School, according to San Bernardino County on social media. 

Malinowski warned residents that even after the cleanup, the threat of mudslides and debris flows will remain.

“The takeaway from this is the only thing that will heal the hillsides is time,” he said. “We can’t go plant 35,000 acres of grass and debris and brush that the fire burned.

“The danger is very much there,” the fire chief said. “If you evacuate, you will be safe, but it’s very hard to get through 6 to 8 feet of mud … to try to rescue you.”

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