Lovely Rain, Muddy Results

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A series of winter storms continues to bring rain to the Santa Monica Mountains. Mudflows and rockslides have been a problem in parts of the Woolsey Fire burn area, but Topanga has so far been spared anything worse than a few small rocks in the road, despite concerns over the 55-acre burn scar from the 2017 fire above Topanga Canyon Blvd.

A fast-moving flood of mud and rocks near County Line in Malibu on the night of January 6 trapped several motorists in their vehicles, but no injuries were reported. Pacific Coast Highway was closed in both directions from Broad Beach Road in Malibu all the way to Las Posas Road in Ventura County while emergency crews worked to clear the 40-foot-wide debris flow and free the mired vehicles.

Mudslides also occurred on Kanan Dume Road and Decker Canyon, two canyons that were severely impacted by the November 9 wildfire. Crews successfully cleared debris from Kanan, but Decker remained closed when the Messenger Mountain News went to press.

Caltrans plows have been on round-the-clock duty on Topanga Canyon Blvd., clearing fallen rocks and mud. With rain likely all week, residents are asked to slow down, make sure to use headlights, and watch for rocks in the road. Anyone planning to travel on a road impacted by the wildfire should check traffic conditions first to make sure their route is open.

A large westerly swell that is expected to arrive along with the series of storms is raising concerns because it will coincided with winter high tides, increasing the potential to damage coastal property.

Surfers may rejoice at the prospect of big surf, but many popular beaks in the Malibu area continue to be affected by runoff from the wildfire burn scar, adding hazards like tree branches, barbed wire, silt and ash to the surf zone, in addition to the usual rainy season water contaminants like bacteria.

Malibu’s Surfrider received solid  “F” ratings for dry and wet weather conditions from Heal the Bay, and even usually pristine Zuma and Leo Carrillo beaches received a “C” and “F”, respectively.

Topanga, unaffected by the Woolsey Fire, but still impacted by contaminated runoff, received an A grade before the most recent rain storm, and an F grade for water quality during the rain.

Los Angeles County has declared an ocean water quality rain advisory for the duration of the current storm event.  Beach users are cautioned to avoid water contact for at least 72 hours following significant rainfall and to stay away from storm drain and creek outflows, where contaminants are concentrated. The advisory may be extended depending upon further rainfall.

Sandbags remain available at all Los Angeles County fire stations.

Topanga residents can always find up-to-date emergency information, including road closures, on T-CEP’s website:

Sign up for Los Angeles County emergency alerts at, check for storm-related traffic at, or for text messages at, keep an eye on ocean water quality at, and for in depth weather coverage and discussion, including marine conditions, visit the National Weather Service’s website


Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at

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