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New California storm brings risk of mudslides, blizzard

Authorities are concerned about the potential danger for thousands of people living in foothill and canyon areas devastated by last year's wildfires.
Image: A skiploader clearing a river of mud that has flowed onto Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu
A river of mud is cleared from the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California, on Monday.CalTrans / AP

LOS ANGELES — Another Pacific storm was set to hit California on Wednesday, bringing a threat of mudslides to the site of the deadliest wildfire in state history and a rare blizzard warning in the Sierra Nevada.

An evacuation warning was in place into Thursday morning for Pulga, a canyon community in Northern California. Its neighbor, the town of Paradise, was virtually incinerated two months ago by the Camp Fire that killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 15,000 homes.

The National Weather Service issued a flood watch for the county beginning late Wednesday afternoon.

"If flooding occurs, this can quickly become a dangerous and life-threatening situation," the Butte County Sheriff's Office warned.

The north could see the strongest storm of the year with heavy rain in the San Francisco Bay Area leading to a widespread flash flood watch beginning in the afternoon. Flood and high wind watches were scheduled for the Sacramento area, with the weather service warning that gusts could lead to power outages, downed trees and tough driving conditions.

A blizzard warning for much of the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe was set to go into effect Wednesday night, with meteorologists predicting as much of 5 feet of snow in upper elevations and wind gusts of up to 100 mph on ridgetops.

Dangerous and potentially life-threatening conditions were expected at elevations above 7,000 feet, with high avalanche danger throughout the region.

A week of storms has left authorities concerned about the potential danger for thousands of people living in foothill and canyon areas devastated by last year's wildfires. Immense areas of the state were razed by wind-whipped flames, leaving hillsides bare of vegetation that could stabilize soil and prevent mudslides.

Several thousand people heeded a mandatory evacuation order in Santa Barbara County on the Central Coast, where last year a sudden debris flow swept through Montecito, killing 23 people and destroying 100 homes.

Daphne Moore was among the evacuees.

"It's a complete drag but it's better than dying in a mud debris flow," she said.

However, the rain that fell Tuesday wasn't heavy enough to cause disaster and the county lifted the order Tuesday evening. More rain was expected Wednesday but not enough to be a serious threat, officials said.

Some mandatory evacuations remained in the Malibu area of Los Angeles County and voluntary evacuations were in place for some parts of Ventura County. Both were affected by November's Woolsey Fire that destroyed more than 1,500 homes and killed four people.