The recent rain is much-needed across Colorado, but it also creates flood concerns for fire-ravaged areas where the vegetation can no longer soak up rain and burned soil is so badly damaged that it repels water rather than absorbing it. Now, experts are saying that the possibility for post-fire flooding could last a decade.
"Scientists are telling us 5 to 10 years out that we'll have concerns with the Fourmile burn area," Boulder Office of Emergency Management Sergeant Dan Barber told 7News. "The other districts like High Park and Waldo should be paying attention to that."
Teams of biologists, hydrologists and soil scientists are already on the ground in Colorado analyzing what is needed to handle the post-fire flooding in the state, The Associated Press reports. "This is a very critical stage in the process," U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Harris Sherman told The Associated Press about the post-fire recovery effort. "Obviously if we can deal with potential flooding and erosion concerns early on, we will all be much better off." Teams are building water bars, removing hazardous trees and spreading seed to help offset the damage done by the fires across the West.
The 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire that burned more than 6,000 acres and destroyed 169 homes in Boulder County is still at flood and mudslide risk when storms roll through the area and will continue to be for sometime.
The High Park Fire area has already seen mudslides that have closed the canyon several times in July since the first wave of rain storms hit the state. On Monday, the area had four more mud and rock slides that stopped travel in the Poudre Canyon for hours during the afternoon, according to The Coloradoan. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the area on Monday after a stream jumped its banks left black soot, rocks and debris on Stove Prairie Road and Highway 14, CBS4 reported.
"Once the rain hits the areas that burned hotly, those soils will not be enough to absorb any of the moisture," meteorologist Kathy Torgerson with the National Weather Service in Pueblo told the Gazette. "It will mix with the ash and cause these mud and ash flows. And they can be quite dramatic."
Luckily for the Waldo Canyon Fire area, no flooding has been reported despite quick bursts of rainfall in the area. On Monday afternoon, 1 1/2 inches of rain fell in less than an hour about 5 miles north of the 29-square-mile burn zone.
The National Weather Service has not issued a flood watch or warning for any of Colorado's recently burned areas on Tuesday, but warns that if heavy rains do occur burn scars will be particularly vulnerable to flooding.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar surveyed the fire damage in Colorado Springs last week and urged residents to remain vigilant both more floods in areas where the ground has been destabilized, saying that those living downstream are particularly vulnerable. "Communities beyond those burned areas are who need flood insurance," Salazar said in Colorado Springs. "If flooding occurs, it wil be going down to Fountain Creek and all the way to the Arkansas River. People in Colorado Springs, El Paso County and Fountain have to maintain a degree of caution," the Colorado Independent's Troy Hooper reported.