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California Trails

The Soil Science Behind the Deadly Montecito Mudslide

Wildfire, cliffside development, and rain combined to create last week's devastating slide.

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Soil scientists weren’t surprised by the mudslide that destroyed parts of Montecito and killed more than 17 people last week: As they explain in Popular Science, the slopes burned of vegetation by the recent Thomas Fire, erosion from cliffside development, and heavy rain were all factors that could be expected to lead to a slide. But though experts can identify likely landslide triggers, preventing them–or even developing early warning systems–is another story.