KNAU and Arizona News
2:31 pm
Thu August 11, 2011

Schultz Fire Triggers a Year of Devastating Flash Floods

Flagstaff, AZ – For people living across the drought plagued Southwest can there be anything more welcome than the sound of rain?

Not for Allison Clough. When it rains, she fears something more ominous ..flash floods.

Allison Clough: As the flood approaches you can actually hear this chugging sound as the rocks are pushed along in a slurry of dirt and trees/ rocks/ it's rhythmic sounding like trains, you hear this chugga sound as the rocks come down the hill

Clough lives on the edge of the Coconino National forest. The Schultz fire burned 15,000 acres on the peak that towers over her neighborhood. Since then, the scorched slopes can't absorb rainwater from the monsoons. More than a dozen times this year, rivers of water have crashed into people's homes at the base of the mountain. But it was one flood in July soon after the Shultz fire that really shook the community. That slurry flooded 85 homes, washed out US Highway 89 and killed a 12 year old girl.

Andy Bertelsen: It hit me hard personally and a lot of us hard

Andy Bertelsen, is Coconino County's Public Works director. He says he's learned what nearly two inches of rain an hour can do. It overwhelms the drainage system.

Bertelsen: But we didn't give up citizens/nobody gave up we started protecting homes, determining flows, aerial mapping and protecting w jersey barriers 316

Jersey barriers are those portable concrete barriers used in highway construction projects. Today, these barriers, along with gullies and sandbags, are very familiar in Flagstaff neighborhoods threatened by flooding. The county has distributed preparedness guides and installed rain gauges in the burn area to track precipitation levels. They are then providing that information to the community. This helps residents try to mitigate the threat of floods on their own property. But they still have no control over what the FS is doing up the mountain where the fire burned.

It would be nice to have some engagement w the FS related to how do we protect this urban fringe area?

Dr. Pam Foti chairs the department of Geography, Planning and Recreation at Northern Arizona University and lives in the same Timberline neighborhood.

What would they like us to do rather than the citizens deciding well I guess this is what we're doing and literally hauling the rocks to put these rock boundaries. Is that the best thing for everybody to do, or not. But there's been no discussion as to what would be the best thing to do here.

For its part the FS says it has been making a difference. Rory Steinke who manages the watershed program for the Coconino National Forest says crews have covered the burn area with agricultural straw and wood shred mulching numerous times in the past year to try to slow the water.

Rory Steinke: Fixing the roads to slow down the water, plant trees when we have the seedlings and poss other mulching where needed that's the primary emphasis of forest with collaborating with county and city

The trick is of course, to prevent these massive burns in the first place. Restricting campfires in high season and educating visitors on how to be responsible around them has not been enough. The Forest Service says thinning the forests is the long term solution. And Steinke says a new project will address that. It's called the four forest restoration initiative. It will treat 700-thousand acres of Arizona's forest land.

STEINKE: It's ambitious project and it should have significant effect in reducing hazardous fuels

Funding is already in place and thinning could begin as soon as this fall. That could be good news for the Timberline Community as they hope for a less tumultuous season in the coming year.

For more information visit these link:

1. www.coconino.az.gov/schultzfloodinformation.aspx
2. Emergency Alert System (EAS) broadcast on NOAA weather radios, AM/FM radio and TV
3. Coconino Notification System to have alerts sent to your cell phone or computer: www.readycoconion.az.gov
4. http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/
5. National Flood Insurance Program: 1.800.720.1093 and www.floodsmart.gov
6. To assist those affected by flooding, volunteer, contact April Saylor at the NAU Civic Service Institute: April.Saylor@nau.edu or 928/523-3560
7. Black Bill Park Neighborhood Association: www.bbpna.org