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Mudslide in Avila Fire burn scar worrying residents about potential for bigger disaster

SHELL BEACH, Calif. -- Heavy rains in Shell Beach triggered a small mudslide in the Avila Fire burn scar late Thursday night.

The flow sent mud and debris into a private neighborhood located along Mattie Road.

"I looked out the window and saw the mudflow," said Phyllis Snelling. "There definitely was a mudflow coming down the street."

Snelling said the experience was so terrifying, she was ready to evacuate.

"I was scared enough to call the police and ask what was going on," said Snelling. "I had a backpack packed."

On Friday, Snelling and many other residents woke up Friday morning to debris strewn about the neighborhood.

"Mailboxes are covered," said Bodie Thoene. "The street is covered. The fire hydrant is half-covered."

Like Snelling, Thoene also feared the worst during the mudslide.

"This is kind of scary thing to see chunks of hillside letting go and coming down into our streets," said Thoene. "It's scary. We realize that the whole mountain could let go."

While the damage ended up only being relatively minor, with mud and debris covering a few streets, residents are growing nervous about the next significant rainstorm.

"If the hillside slipped, it was going to start moving houses, if we got anything like Montecito," said Jerry Winkenbach. "If we get some heavy rains, I'm going to start to worry."

Thoene said many of the residents have been battling with the homeowners association to install preventative measures, such as the mitigation efforts taken on the hillside just north of the slide.

"We're worried about our safety and we're worried about our home and something needs to be done to protect us," said Thoene.

She added it's been a growing battle ever since the Avila Fire burned the area last June.

The community is privately owned, as is the hillside, so the City of Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo County have no jurisdiction in its maintenance.

"The hillside, the streets, all of the amenities, they are all privately owned," said Jorge Garcia, Pismo Beach Management Services Director. "We have communicated with the homeowners and the HOAs, but it's not our responsibility. That being said, we want to be a partner with the property owners and point them in the right direction."

Until there is a resolution, residents are crossing their fingers and hoping for the best as they look ahead to the future.

"Considering what could have happened, I don't think this is as horrific as the possibilities," said Snelling. "I think we escaped the big one and hopefully we won't have too much more rain and everything will settle down and the plants will grow now, they've had a lot of water."

"I hope it's going to be dry for a while and the hillside dries out and then rain it will absorb the rain, rather than have all of this runoff that we've had," said Winkenbach.


California / Fire / Safe at Home / Safety / San Luis Obispo County
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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.

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