Powerful California storms spark fears of mudslides

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Powerful storms pummeling parts of California were expected to hit the state’s southern mountain ranges on Thursday, raising fears of mudslides on hills stripped bare from last year’s wildfires.

Winds of up to 120 mph (193 kph) swept through the northern Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe when the storms there peaked earlier this week, and the capital city of Sacramento was still grappling with power outages and downed trees on Thursday.

The National Weather Service on Thursday issued winter storm warnings for mountainous areas in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, and flood advisories for much of the agricultural Central Valley.

In Monterey County along the Central Coast, several debris flows forced evacuations on Wednesday, heightening concerns that last year’s fires could be followed by dangerous mudslides as heavy rains continue.

The 2020 fire season was one of the worst on record in the most populous U.S. state, burning 4.3 million acres (17,401 square kms) and killing 33 people. Mudslides often follow fire, because without the roots of living trees holding the soil in place, heavy rains can cause part of a hillside to break away.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Dan Grebler