Flagstaff Prepares For Flood One Year After Fire

By Laurel Morales
Published: Monday, July 20, 2020 - 5:05am
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Laurel Morales/KJZZ
The Museum Fire near Flagstaff.

Tuesday marks one year since the Museum Fire north of Flagstaff. And forest officials say there’s still a threat of flooding. 

Flagstaff is familiar with floods following wildfires. A decade ago, the mudslides after the Schultz Fire destroyed dozens of homes and killed a 12-year-old girl. 

Hydrologist Dick Fleishman said the Museum Fire could cause a similar event. If Flagstaff receives 2 inches of rain in a short amount of time, flooding is likely.

“The soils got pretty well baked, which causes a condition called hydrophobicity, which basically turns a soil, which is usually a sponge into a waxy surface, so water will shed off of that rather quickly,” Fleishman said. 

He said generally the first year is the worst.

“The second a little bit less you're starting to get some (vegetation) response you've got mitigative measures in place,” Fleishman said. “Third year it’s getting better. By the fourth year, it’s usually back to a pre-fire condition as far as rainfall response.”

But local leaders have been working to prevent another catastrophe. They have spent more than a million dollars on sandbags, barriers, rain gauges and efforts to slow the floods.

“If there's a fairly significant rain event on the burn area and that water starts crashing down through that area rather than cutting big channels it will now continue to spread that water out,” said Lucinda Andreani, the flood control district administrator.

Andreani says it’s important to sign up for the notification system. If there is a flood there won’t be much time to respond. 

“Now that we’ve had the fire if we get a two inch rain event there’s a 600% increased chance of flows,” said Liz Archuleta chairwoman of the board of supervisors. “It’s important that all these measures are in place. It’s important that the emergency operations center is ready to go that we have a hotline established that we have a plan. We are ready to address any flooding that would come about this monsoon season.”

Coconino County has become a model for how other communities respond to floods following wildfires.