Voluntary evacuation issued for OC residents in Bond Fire burn area

Orange County residents who reside in burn scar areas prepared for Thursday's powerful winter storm. 

Volunteer fireman Dustin Kaatz placed wooden barriers behind his home in preparation for a possible mudslide.

"Right now, everything's coming down since no brush left. We're just trying to divert debris flow so it goes down the street somehow and doesn't get backed up against the houses," said Kaatz, a volunteer firefighter with the Orange County Fire Authority.

A fireball rolled down a nearby hill during the Bond Fire last month, killing vegetation in the area. If a mudslide isn't stopped, it could easily push in the walls of Kaatz's already-charred home.

"The debris flow is not like regular water. It has a consistency almost like cement so you can’t really stop it and it’s really, really heavy. So when it gets going, it’s not a matter of trying to make the water follow a certain path. It’ll fill up a gulley or culvert and then go to a different direction and fill that up too," Kaatz explained.

His neighbors are making similar preparations ahead of Thursday's wet winter storm, stacking sandbags and shoveling mud from last week's rain that only lasted about 10 minutes.

"You can’t tell, but there’s a drain underneath there," said Chuck Wales, a Silverado resident. "It goes underneath the road and then debris flow here. This was just an inch of rain, I guess. If we have three inches if the hill is already saturated. I think we’re going to be in for some mud."

As of Wednesday afternoon, Orange County has given its residents 20,000 sandbags. The county put together a staging area for K-rails and other barriers they will likely need to keep the roads open and safe from the mud.

The owners of Tip Toe Ranch are using their own heavy machinery to clean out their drains and ditches.

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"The other day, we had a lot of mud. We had about two to three feet of mud in front of the fence here, couldn’t even get in, we’re worried about the same thing happening again," said Milan McClean, of Silverado.  

The back of Kaatz’s next door neighbor’s house is already under five feet of mud from last week’s minimal rain. The worst is yet to come.  

"If public safety officials do require a mandatory evacuation, if the rain hits those levels, we ask that they please follow those orders because those can be life-saving measures they can take," said Shannon Widor with Orange County Public Works.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department on Thursday morning issued voluntary evacuation warnings for residents in Silverado, Williams and Modjeska canyons, noting the potential for "heavy rain, subsequent flooding and debris flows" in the recent Bond Fire burn area.

Santiago Canyon road was opened only to residents east of the 241/261 interchange, and north of Ridgeline Road.

The Red Cross was expected to open a "temporary evacuation point" at 2 p.m. at El Modena High School, 3920 E. Spring St. in Orange, to offer resources to evacuees, such as snacks and information on available hotels and lodging. The evacuation point will not be operated as a shelter.

Orange County authorities were most concerned about a downpour expected about midnight, said Carrie Braun of the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

"We're encouraging people to go early," Braun said. "It's not going to be good if they wait."

The areas under an evacuation warning are "remote" with "one way in and one way out,'' so authorities are concerned about traffic jams at the last minute and "impassible" roads, which would mean "essentially you're stuck," Braun said.

The evacuation warnings affect 2,000 to 3,000 Orange County residents, Braun said.

CNS contributed to this report.