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Air Quality, Erosion, and Mudslides: Risks and Precautions After a Major Wildfire

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Many residents impacted by devastating wildfires feel relieved when these natural disasters are finally contained. However, many do not realize that wildfires have a lasting effect on the safety of your home and the health of your family – even years after they are put out.

If you or a loved one were impacted by the wildfires, please contact Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP today. We can help you pursue compensation for all of your losses following a wildfire – including those that may result from flooding, mudslides, and erosion.

Wildfires Decrease Air Quality

Perhaps one of the most apparent effects of a wildfire is the immediate impact it has on air quality. Smoke from wildfires may contain particulate matter that can already irritate eyes and lungs, causing symptoms such as:

  • Burning, watery eyes
  • Scratchy, irritated throat
  • Runny nose
  • Trouble breathing
  • Asthma
  • Potential cardiovascular issues
  • Headaches
  • Sinus problems

However, if residential areas and towns are caught in the blaze, the dangers of smoke become even greater. Buildings and homes are full of chemicals that can be incredibly dangerous when burned, giving off fumes that may be caustic or even carcinogenic. Some buildings may still use hazardous insulation materials such as asbestos – which, when burned and inhaled, may cause mesothelioma, a rare, severe form of lung cancer.

This air pollution is not just confined to the region of the wildfire – it can often travel thousands of miles, impacting air quality in other areas of the world. The recently devastating Camp Fire in Butte County, CA was so massive that the resultant air pollution has reached New York City on the other side of the country.

Although this air pollution may last months to fully dissipate, rainfall and other moisture events can help clear it out. However, with rainfall can come other hazardous situations immediately following a wildfire.

Fires Increase the Risk of Flooding, Erosion, and Mudslides

Wildfires can significantly increase the odds (and severity) of flooding and erosion in affected areas. Large-scale wildfires have the ability to dramatically impact the terrain and landscape of a region, significantly altering its ground conditions in two ways:

  • Wildfires burn a significant share of the vegetation that may have been present on the ground, such as trees and bushes. During cases of heavy rainfall, these plants help absorb any of the excess water, minimizing runoff and decreasing the risks of flooding.
  • After a wildfire, the burned vegetation releases organic compounds into the dirt. These compounds combine with the soil to create a slick, waxy layer of topsoil a couple inches below the surface of the ground.

This waxy layer is hydrophobic – it actively repels water. As a result, when rain falls, it slides down the terrain instead of being absorbed. And with minimal vegetation to help curb that precipitation, the result is massive runoff of rainwater.

Flooding Can Result in Severe Mudslides and Debris Flow

Flooding after a wildfire may be catastrophic on its own, but wildfires also increase the chances of those floods turning into devastating mudslides and catastrophic debris flow.

When vegetation is burned, it weakens or completely burns away the roots of the plants. These roots not only anchor vegetation, but they also anchor the soil. With no roots, the soil is loosened up – which means everything above it is highly likely to get swept up in the event of a heavy flood. This includes:

  • Burned ash
  • Dirt
  • Rocks and boulders
  • Charred remains of trees and vegetation

This flow can move as fast as 35mph and is strong enough to sweep up other, larger debris such as building rubble, automobiles, and even homes. These larger pieces of debris can also act as a moving dam, preventing the flow from traveling naturally. As a result, these mudslides can seemingly surge in behavior, with periods of sudden, rapidly discharging water and mud following a lull in flooding. This inconsistent behavior can cause severe damage to people, homes, and roads.

As recently as October, heavy rains caused mudslides in areas burned by the Dixie Fire.

You May Be Able to Recover Compensation

Flooding, mudslides, and debris flow have the potential to cause additional damage to your property – and, sometimes, even greater damage than the wildfires that preceded them. Unfortunately, flooding is typically not covered in a standard homeowners insurance policy.

However, due to the extenuating circumstances of your situation, you may be able to receive compensation for your losses following flooding. If you or a loved one have been impacted by flooding and mudslides, please contact Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP today to discuss your options for compensation. We have the experience, skill, and knowledge to understand what it takes to recover your losses following a devastating mudslide. Even if your policy may not cover floods, we may be able to advise you on other options for compensation – including any third-party claims that you may be able to pursue.

Contact us today for a free consultation. We understand the trying times you may be experiencing now, and we want to help you as best we can.

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