Wildfires frequently affect the steep hillslopes near El Portal, California (United States), a small community established during the California Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. In addition to the historical significance of El Portal, State Route 140 (SR 140) is a major transportation and economic corridor connecting the San Joaquin Valley to Yosemite National Park (YNP). In 2019, an estimated 4.5 million tourists visited and accessed YNP via SR 140. In the years after wildfires, the burned watersheds produced debris flows during intense rainfall, impacting the El Portal community and motorists traveling on SR 140 and local roads. The steepness of the hillslopes and confinement of the valley limit options for mitigating debris-flow risk. As such, emergency managers are left with evacuation orders or temporary road closures as the best options for risk reduction. The effectiveness of these options is highly dependent on establishing an accurate local rainfall intensity-duration threshold that officials can use to guide emergency response actions and timing. We present an overview of the rainfall conditions that initiated 12 post-fire debris-flow events near El Portal from 1991 to 2018 and objectively define rainfall intensity-duration thresholds from triggering rainfall rates. Our results highlight the modest rainfall rates that triggered debris flows in these steep watersheds, while radar data from more recent events (2012–2018) portray the spatial variability of intense rainfall in the area. Additional rainfall monitoring is needed to provide a robust rainfall threshold that will effectively mitigate risk for residents and motorists while minimizing the impact of road closures and evacuations.

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