In situ measurements of post-fire debris flows in southern California: Comparisons of the timing and magnitude of 24 debris-flow events with rainfall and soil moisture conditions

  • Kean J
  • Staley D
  • Cannon S
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Debris flows often occur in burned steeplands of southern California, sometimes causing property damage and loss of life. In an effort to better understand the hydrologic controls on post-fire debris-flow initiation, timing and magnitude, we measured the flow stage, rainfall, channel bed pore fluid pressure and hillslope soil-moisture accompanying 24 debris flows recorded in five different watersheds burned in the 2009 Station and Jesusita Fires (San Gabriel and Santa Ynez Mountains). The measurements show substantial differences in debris-flow dynamics between sites and between sequential events at the same site. Despite these differences, the timing and magnitude of all events were consistently associated with local peaks in short duration (< = 30 min) rainfall intensity. Overall, debris-flow stage was best cross-correlated with time series of 5-min rainfall intensity, and lagged the rainfall by an average of just 5 min. An index of debris-flow volume was also best correlated with short-duration rainfall intensity, but found to be poorly correlated with storm cumulative rainfall and hillslope soil water content. Post-event observations of erosion and slope stability modeling suggest that the debris flows initiated primarily by processes related to surface water runoff, rather than shallow landslides. By identifying the storm characteristics most closely associated with post-fire debris flows, these measurements provide valuable guidance for warning operations and important constraints for developing and testing models of post-fire debris flows. copyright. 2011 by the American Geophysical Union.

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  • Jason W. Kean

  • Dennis M. Staley

  • Susan H. Cannon

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