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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

CAL FIRE Responds to Highland Flooding Incident

December 22, 2010 dawned as a massive mud and debris flood engulfed several neighborhoods of the City of Highland, California. After nearly a week of moderate rainfall, a day of heavy rain rushed down the already saturated nearby mountain slopes. Creeks rushed out of their banks, debris basins overflowed, and the massive runoff clogged the storm drain system causing the mud and debris to flow down streets and through homes.

Early on, CAL FIRE firefighters (CAL FIRE is the city fire department for the City of Highland) assisted 26 residents of an area in south eastern Highland known as the Village to flee the rising flood. As the flowing river of mud hit the village, it buried cars and trucks, crushed property and inundated homes.

Almost immediately, CAL FIRE joined in a unified command with the City of Highland and the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department which is the contract law enforcement agency for the city. Working in concert from years of practice and preparation as members of MAST (Mountain Area Safety Taskforce) the firefighters and Sheriff's deputies moved rapidly to respond to life safety and traffic issues. As the morning progressed, additional support was brought in from CAL FIRE and the Sheriff's Department.

Beginning on Thursday, December 23rd, CAL FIRE hand crews began working on mud and debris removal while at the same time working to build sandbag protection around homes that continued to be threatened by the potential of additional water and mud runoff. For six consecutive days, a sandbag filling operation, running practically 24 hours a day filled and moved out into the community more than 150,000 sandbags. The hand crews worked through rain and cold to keep the other crews supplied with the valuable sandbags.

The crews, firefighters, Sheriff's deputies, city personnel, and San Bernardino County flood control staff worked through Christmas to help those affected by the massive mud flow to begin the recovery process. The incident began to wind down as New Year's approached, with only a couple of crews completing final mud clearing operations on January 1, 2011.

The damage is estimated to exceed 21-million dollars. No deaths or injuries were reported because of the flooding. The local communities affected by the flood showed their appreciation to the crews on a nearly continuous basis. The amount of work accomplished in the nine days following the flood was incredible. The 36 hand crews from numerous CAL FIRE Conservation Camps, firefighters, Sheriff's Deputies, Highland city personnel, and all the other participants in the recovery have given the residents of the City of Highland a head start on recovery and a solid defense from rain for the rest of the Winter.