Category Archives: Disaster

Blue Cut Fire Damage – Highways

On September 6, 2016, I finally got a chance to survey the damage to the roadways in Cajon Pass that were involved in the Blue Cut Fire. Portions of the area are still closed, specifically the area north of Cajon Junction, so I was unable to access the Alray UP or the abandoned expressway sections in that area.

I was, however, able to inspect State 138 east of I-15 and all of old US 66 / 91 / 395 south of Cajon Junction. I chose not to investigate State 138 west of I-15 as there was a lot of heavy construction in progress for a four-lane widening project.

I started my journey by taking the “new” Cajon Blvd alignment that bypasses Devore Junction (I-15 and I-215). Caltrans has recently completed reconstruction of this interchange and as part of that reconstruction, they have partly rebuilt Cajon Blvd through here. While much of it is a new alignment, it does follow the original alignment (pre-1937). As a result, I was able to get some nice photos of part of that alignment.

New section of Cajon Blvd adjacent of I-15, south of Kenwood Road.
New section of Cajon Blvd adjacent of I-15, south of Kenwood Road.
Looking southerly along Cajon Blvd toward I-15.
Looking southerly along Cajon Blvd toward I-15.
Pre-1937 alignment of US 66 / 395 running along the base of the cliff.
Pre-1937 alignment of US 66 / 395 running along the base of the cliff.

The burn area itself became very apparent after Kenwood Road. The fire in this area burned as far as Keenbrook, damaging many structures in that area. A few things didn’t get burned though. One, a lone sign that says “EAT” along with its accompanying structure, remained intact. At Blue Cut, the source of the fire, I was rather amazed at what didn’t burn. Most of the cottonwood and oak trees survived untouched as well as most of the guardrail in the median of the expressway.

Just north of Kenwood Road looking toward Keenbrook. Burn area is evident near the trees in the distance as well as in the mountains.
Just north of Kenwood Road looking toward Keenbrook. Burn area is evident near the trees in the distance as well as in the mountains.
South end of Blue Cut showing fire damage.
South end of Blue Cut showing fire damage.
Looking westerly at Blue Cut. The fire burned all around here, but left most of the trees intact.
Looking westerly at Blue Cut. The fire burned all around here, but left most of the trees intact.
At Blue Cut, looking easterly. Despite the name of the fire, it didn't do that much damage here.
At Blue Cut, looking easterly. Despite the name of the fire, it didn’t do that much damage here.

North of Blue Cut, the burn area stops mostly at the old highway, but not east of it. The wooden railing is still intact at Debris Cone Creek. Some structures were damaged near Cajon Junction, such as the Chevron gas station and the McDonalds restaurant.

Looking northerly from the Cleghorn Creek Bridge toward Cleghorn Road. Utility crews are visible in the distance.
Looking northerly from the Debris Cone Creek Bridge toward Cleghorn Road. Utility crews are visible in the distance.
1939 bridge over Debris Cone Creek. Concrete K-rail was added later to protect the wooden railing.
1939 bridge over Debris Cone Creek. Concrete K-rail was added later to protect the wooden railing.
Side view of the 1939 Debris Cone Creek Bridge with its 1952 counterpart. The cross beams in the railing were removed at some point in the past few years.
Side view of the 1939 Debris Cone Creek Bridge with its 1952 counterpart. The cross beams in the railing were removed at some point in the past few years. The fire burnt up to the edge of the 1952 span.
Old railing just south of Cajon Junction, just missed by the fire.
Old railing just south of Cajon Junction, just missed by the fire.

After Cajon Junction, I followed State 138 east toward Summit. The burn area covered the entire highway from Cajon Junction to Summit Valley Road. This section is scheduled to be realigned in the near future as well.

Hwy 138 and the Cajon Amphitheater from Summit.
Hwy 138 and the Cajon Amphitheater from Summit.

Overall, most of the old highways through the Cajon Pass remained intact. Some guardrail was damaged but most was only lightly burned. How this area will react during the next few major rain storms does remain to be seen. Hopefully, mudslides and debris flows don’t become the order of the day.

Blue Cut Fire Update

While some evacuations are being lifted, others continue. The continuing evacuations are in the northwestern end of the fire, surrounding Wrightwood, Lytle Creek, and parts of Phelan.

Interstate 15 is OPEN in both directions. State 138 is still closed through the area in addition to most local roadways. The BNSF Railway is open and UP traffic is detouring onto the BNSF trackage around the damaged bridges.

Follow these links for detailed information about the fire and what areas are affected:

Inciweb Incident Page

GeoMAC – Detailed fire perimeter map

San Bernardino County Road Closures

Blue Cut Fire Map – Updated

New Fire Perimeter map available through InciWeb as of 8/17/2016 at 10:30 pm

I-15 will open to Northbound traffic soon as well – Per Caltrans District 8.

All Railroad traffic is still shut down through the pass. I haven’t heard of what BNSF trackage has been damaged but the Union Pacific line has been damaged at Alray. There is no ETA thus far for reopening. This also delays and/or cancels some Amtrak service as well, such as the Southwest Chief from Los Angeles to Chicago.

Blue Cut Fire Map Link

Fire Perimeter Map from InciWeb as of 8/17/2016 at 8:22 am

Blue Cut Fire and Other Wildfire Information

With all the wildfires propping up lately, it is important to stay on top of the news. Your local newspaper and tv stations should be able to give updated information, but you can also get it directly from the agencies involved. I highly recommend the sites listed below as they can give more detailed information about what is going on and are usually updated regularly.

Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination (Fire incident mapping) 
http://www.geomac.gov/

Incident Information System (Mapping and Detailed Incident Reports)
http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/

Caltrans Road Conditions
http://www.dot.ca.gov/cgi-bin/roads.cgi

California Highway Patrol  Traffic Incident Information (Gives very detailed reports on how these fires affect roadways)
http://cad.chp.ca.gov/

If you have any websites that you would like to share – Please send us feedback or use the comments for this post.

Blue Cut Fire

Fire Perimeter Map from InciWeb as of 8/17/2016 at 8:22 am

In regards to the current fires in the Cajon Pass, I plan to assess the damage to the highways myself once the area is clear. From what I understand so far, it looks like most of the wooden railing along US 66 / 91 / 395 in the pass may be gone, in addition to the historic Summit Inn restaurant at Cajon Summit. Other structures, not associated with the roadway, have also burned. According to CHP, a railroad bridge in the pass has burned, the Alray UP where former US 66 / 91 / 395 passed below. Please stay clear of the Cajon Pass for the duration of this fire.

DETOURS:

If you need to head north toward I-15 and I-40 near Barstow, I recommend taking I-10 East to State 62 East to State 247 North to Barstow. From there, you will connect with I-15 and I-40 just west of their junction. State 247 is a two lane roadway and may be busier than usual, so use caution.

All other traffic should use State 14 through Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley to connect with points to the north/west of I-15.

Sand Fire Information

As the Sand Fire has grown quite substantially in the past few days, it has become more difficult to track where it is going. I’ve found a couple of good links for up-to-date information on this fire. Map below courtesy of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Help the USGS with Earthquakes!

How can you help the United States Geological Survey? One simple way is to report to them when you feel an earthquake. This data helps them determine magnitude of the earthquake, how the geology affects that, and how the type of structure reacts to the event. Most earthquakes larger than 4.0 are listed in the “Events”  section of the page. So, help the USGS understand how earthquakes affect our region by contacting them at: “Did You Feel It?

Storm Damage Updates – Tejon Pass Area

This weekend, I had the opportunity to survey the damage from the recent storms in the Tejon Pass / Grapevine area. I took my motorcycle, as I expected to need extra clearance on some of the roadways I was going to take. The results of the survey were better than expected, mostly.

My 2014 Kawasaki KLR 650 and the Ridge Route near Martins.
My 2014 Kawasaki KLR 650 and the Ridge Route near Martins.

Ridge Route:

While I was only able to inspect the Ridge Route from State 138 south to the Tumble Inn, I was pleased to see how little damage was done to the roadway. As it has also been a while since I have been able to travel this section, I had to go by what I had heard and knew of the pre-existing damage. The bulk of the roadway was seemingly untouched by the recent storms. Only two sections, one with an existing problem, were a problem. One of those sections in particular, just south of Liebre Summit, is nearly impassable by a standard clearance automobile.

Grapevine Canyon:

Deadmans Curve with slide damage visible behind it and on the slopes above.
Deadmans Curve with slide damage visible behind it and on the slopes above.
Rills in the slopes from the mudslides. Note the bare slopes which didn't help matters at all.
Rills in the slopes from the mudslides. Note the bare slopes which didn’t help matters at all.

Mudslides, due to a locally heavy rainfall, closed Interstate 5 through this canyon for some time. Mudslide damage is still very apparent from near Ft Tejon north to near the lower escape ramp. Most of the slides affected the northbound lanes. These slides buried a significant section of former US 99 paving, especially between PM 5.5 and 6.0. While a more detailed inspection will be done later, it appeared that most of the exposed Ridge Route concrete along the northbound side was intact, with the later US 99 concrete being buried. The southbound lanes were also hit, though most of the old highway sections were still intact and relatively untouched.

Overall, the damage from these storms was very localized. As we approach a possibly strong El Nino winter, it is my hope that this storm was not a preview of things to come. As this winter progresses, this site will try to document the changes to our historic roadways throughout Southern California.

Earthquakes and Movies

Lately, there has been quite a bit of press about the recent “San Andreas” movie. To me, this movie sets back the general public’s knowledge and understanding about how earthquakes create damage in Southern California.

Some basic stereotypes exist in the movie, many of which are completely false. Starting with the magnitude of the earthquake in the movie – No fault line in Southern California is capable of anything larger than about an 8.2. The only one truly capable of such an event, the San Andreas Fault, is also many miles from Los Angeles and is mostly separated from the Los Angeles Basin by the San Gabriel Mountains. Anything larger than a 9.0 is in the domain of “megathrusts” or subduction zones. In California, the only subduction zone is the southern end of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which ends at the “Mendocino Triple Junction” just offshore of Cape Mendocino. It last produced something close to a 9.2 or so in January 1700.

Tsunamis, especially ones of great height, are also not in the forecast for a large earthquake here in Southern California. Tsunamis are created by the large scale displacement of water, similar to sloshing in a bathtub. Move your hand below the water quickly, you create a wave on the surface. Usually, tsunamis that are related to earthquakes are caused by the movement of the fault itself, typically megathrust faults underneath the ocean. We just don’t have those in Southern California. Even the largest tsunami generated by such a fault may only be tens of feet high, certainly not hundreds of feet.

Big cracks just don’t open up in the land from earthquakes, certainly nothing like those represented in the movie. Fissures are created by earthquakes, however. These fissures are usually the result of settlement or fault movement. They aren’t that large either way.

Structural damage is also not going to be as great as represented. Mind you, a large magnitude earthquake centered in the Los Angeles Basin will do a great deal of damage. Water mains, sewer mains, gas lines, power lines, and other utilities will be compromised in many locations creating shortages and, in some cases, fires. Buildings may collapse or be damaged beyond repair. The underlying geology will determine some of the damage extent. The rest will be determined by building type and its susceptibility to seismic waves. Either way, the skyscrapers in Downtown Los Angeles won’t be toppling like trees anytime soon. I’d still stay away from the area after a major event though, as there would be an immense amount of glass and debris creating hazards for travel.

Keeping all this in mind, and also keeping with the theme that Southern California officials have been doing, use this opportunity to prepare yourself for a major earthquake. They can strike at any time and will create problems for all of us that live, work, and visit this region. The best way to survive a major catastrophe is to be prepared. Part of that preparation is to know your region, know the routes, and know where the problem areas may be following a major earthquake.

For further information, I highly recommend contacting your local Emergency Services agency in your city and county. They have a great deal of resources to help you prepare for an event like a major earthquake.

Image of the Week – 3/9/15

St. Francis Dam site in 2006 from the reservoir side. The crumbling remains of the wing dam are visible on the ridge to the right.
St. Francis Dam site in 2006 from the reservoir side. The crumbling remains of the wing dam are visible on the ridge to the right.

March 12, 2015 will mark the 87th anniversary of the collapse of the St Francis Dam in San Francisquito Canyon, Los Angeles County, California. The collapse occurred just before midnight on March 12, 1928. It is still California’s second largest disaster in terms of lives lost. Approximately 500 people died in the ensuing flood which flowed to the ocean near Oxnard, CA along the Santa Clara River Valley. Only the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire exceeds the number.