Flooding events a major concern for Grand following fire
When people envision flooding, they often imagine rising waters filling a home — but that’s not always the case in a post-fire mountain landscape.
Tracie Harrison, who does post wildfire outreach for FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, explained that a burn scar like that of the East Troublesome Fire changes the risk for properties nearby.
“That burn scar that has no vegetation kind of acts like concrete,” Harrison said. “All that water that usually would get absorbed is flowing downstream and downhill from those burn scars. As it’s flowing down, it’s picking up ash, boulders, trees. Those things are dangerous.”
One of the biggest concerns following the East Troublesome Fire in Grand County is flooding risk, specifically flooding that picks up debris to create mudflows. Local and national officials are working to get the word out about this new risk and prepare Grand County for a changed landscape this summer.
“Just because the wildfire is out doesn’t mean the danger is gone,” Harrison said.
A number of watersheds were burned in the East Troublesome Fire, including 94% of the Willow Creek Watershed, 90% of the Stillwater Creek Watershed, 42% of the North Inlet Watershed and 29% of the Colorado River Watershed.
Projections have found that water flow from snowmelt and weather events on the burn scar could be 14 times higher than before. According to Grand County Emergency Manager Joel Cochran, the National Weather Service will be monitoring rainstorms that produce even a little bit of rain.
“As little as a quarter inch of rain in an hour could really be significant in terms of moving water and potentially moving debris,” Cochran said to county commissioners on Tuesday.
The US Geological Survey has also produced preliminary hazard assessment across the East Troublesome burn scar. The assessment found that most of the water basins in the burn scar present a moderate risk of debris flow hazards with a high risk in certain areas.
County officials have been working to identify specific risks to property and life.
The first part of that included field surveys for damage assessments, which were completed last week. Using additional modeling, risk for various structures have been further assessed and officials are working to communicate that hazard to land owners.
In her Tuesday update to commissioners, Grand County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris added that some narrow canyons and roads near flowing water would likely need formal evacuation plans.
“With the amount of sediment and rocks these flows can carry, we expect them to just scour the channel,” Morris said. “In that case, the road would be destroyed.”
The county will also be spending nearly $90,000 for flooding alert and warning systems around the East Troublesome burn scar. The majority of that fund will go toward installing seven rain gauges in strategic areas.
Cochran said that NWS radar monitoring is not always perfect, so rain gauges will help improve predictions. The installation price could also see some cost sharing from other entities, though this wasn’t guaranteed.
The rest of the funds will go toward amplifying flood warnings from the NWS.
As for what homeowners can personally do about this risk, one of the biggest steps they can take is purchasing flood insurance.
Diana Herrera with FEMA Floodplain Management and Insurance explained that the vast majority of homeowner insurance plans do not cover flood and mudflow.
“People think their homeowner’s (insurance) will cover this. It will not,” Herrera said. “Unless you have a flood policy either through the National Flood Insurance Program or a private company, they’re not going to have any coverage for the damage that mudflow can cause.”
With a single inch of mudflow capable of causing $25,000 worth of damage to a home, adding this to a policy is something that could make a huge difference to a homeowner. She said that the process to ensure flood coverage is covered is easy; owners can contact their insurance agent and go from there.
Flood coverage costs an average of $500 to $700 per year, which Herrera said is worth it for the “peace of mind.” Most flood insurance takes 30 days before it kicks in, so property owners are encouraged to begin discussions about adding flood insurance as soon as possible.
“Water runs downhill. If you’re below the burn scar and snow melt or rain comes down … that flash flood is going to cause an awful lot of damage,” Herrera said.
This increased risk will likely last for years to come.
People living near the burn scar should also make sure they are signed up for weather alerts especially because flash floods often don’t give a lot of warning.
“If you’re below that burn scar — if you just are looking up — you are in an area at a risk of that happening,” Harrison said.
• People interested in becoming severe weather spotters can find information at http://www.weather.gov/bou/spot_training, which includes upcoming training opportunities.
• Volunteers interested in taking precipitation measurements can sign up with the Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network at http://www.cocorahs.org.
• Find more local resources on the East Troublesome Fire at http://www.co.grand.co.us/1354/East-Troublesome-Fire.
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There are sandbags available in Grand Lake for anyone who wants to perform fire restoration activities.