The San Gabriel Mountains are waging war on Los Angeles and Ed Heinlein’s chainsaw is screaming in the late afternoon sun. It’s January 2015 and Heinlein, who has a friendly paunch and paws sheathed in mud-stained work gloves, is carving up avocado trees. They were drowned the previous year when a series of mud freight trains roared out of the hills above his house. “Welcome to mud central,” says Heinlein, “The assistant fire chief tells me it’s the most dangerous property in L.A.”
Heinlein is a retired elementary school teacher, current Christian minister, and has a preacher’s tendency to speak in terms of fire and brimstone. He lives in Azusa, a scenic nook in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, which rise 10,000 feet above the city of Los Angeles. Aware that the mountain range’s mud war is far from over, Heinlein has spent more than $100,000 to protect his property behind a trio of steel and concrete walls. Immediately surrounding his home is a final barrier, consisting of about 400 sandbags, 60 sheets of plywood and heavy plastic sheeting. It is a mighty fortification, so complete that Heinlein and his family cannot even exit their backdoor.