LOS ANGELES – Sen. Barbara Boxer on Tuesday urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to focus on prevention of erosion when winter rains fall on areas blackened by California wildfires.
"Erosion from steep hillsides will threaten water quality and often cause mudslides that damage property downstream and can seriously exacerbate flooding, as debris, mud and rocks clog flood basins," Boxer said in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The California Democrat urged the department to use resources from such sources as the Emergency Watershed Protection program.
The program provides funds and technical assistance to help local governments clear debris from watercourses, stabilize riverbanks and restore vegetation, according to the Web site of the department's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The biggest current blaze, still burning northeast of Los Angeles two weeks after being ignited by arson, was 60 percent contained after blackening 160,357 acres, or 250 square miles, of Angeles National Forest.
Authorities have said the so-called Station Fire was ignited Aug. 26 along Angeles Crest Highway. Two Los Angeles County firefighters were killed Aug. 30 when their truck plunged off a mountain road.
The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of whoever set the blaze. The state has already offered a $100,000 reward.
The major area of firefighting remained on the eastern end in the San Gabriel Wilderness. Authorities said fire activity continued to decrease, but unfavorable weather conditions forced another day's delay in planned backfiring operations.
"Either the winds were not right out on the line or they may have been what they call squirrely, not predictable, and the people out there in charge of them just did not feel comfortable taking that on today," said incident commander Mike Dietrich.
Conditions would be reassessed Wednesday, he said.
More than 400 firefighters were working to build containment lines on the fire's eastern flank, said U.S Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy.
"They've got one foot in the black, one in the green — cutting fuel out near the fire line," he said.
In addition to the two deaths, 11 firefighters have been injured and 78 homes, two commercial buildings and dozens of outbuildings have been destroyed