Melting Snow And Spring Rain Can Be Dangerous In Last Year's Wildfire Burn Areas
March 20th is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This means the spring run off and with the snowpack this year and the fires last year, officials are asking residents to be aware of land slide and flood risks.
Fires last summer left burn scars on mountainsides all over the state. Combining snow melt, spring rains, steep hillsides and fire damage can make for dangerous conditions to property and personal safety.
Utah Division of emergency Management Spokesperson, Joe Dougherty says there are areas in Wasatch County that could be at risk for debris flows.
“If you live below a burn scar, which we have seen in Wasatch and Duchesne Counties, that snow melt combined with rain can start to bring down hillsides that had previously been burned. So, that’s one of those things that people who live below those areas should really be vigilant and pay attention to the weather this time of year. And, for the next three to five years, they need to pay close attention to the weather.”
Dougherty says as little as a half inch of rain over a 30-minute time frame can bring down a hillside.
“A debris flow looks kind of like a landslide, only it’s very wet. And, it carries a lot of boulders and trees and debris along with the hillside. What happens is a wildfire burns and singes the soil to where it’s hydrophobic and it doesn’t absorb water like it normally did. So, that’s where it can really become quite dangerous. And, so, we are urging people that if you live below a burn scar, pay extra attention to the weather forecasts for your area. If it looks like rain is in the forecast, it’s a good day to not have anyone sleeping in the basement. And, make sure that you are ready to evacuate if that call comes. Now, we do have people that are paying attention to those areas as well. Now, it’s possible as well, that you would get an evacuation warning if that were to come down. But we always need to be vigilant.”
The Division of Emergency Management, Dougherty says, is paying close attention to the areas of Wasatch and Duchesne Counties where the nearly 70,000-acre Dollar Ridge fire burned last summer. The Camelot and Pinnacle neighborhoods are areas to watch. There are reseeding programs, but it takes time for those efforts to work.
“We typically tell people that they need to expect to be on a higher alert, three to five years. But we know that some damage has even occurred up to 10 years after a wildfire has gone through.”
Dougherty encourages people to contact their insurance company and consider purchasing flood insurance. He says 93 percent of Utahn’s are not adequately covered.
He says the state just launched a new website to help people make decisions about their flood risk. It’s called floodfacts.utah.gov
“You know, there’s all sorts of emergency preparedness tips at bereadyutah.gov as well. You know, just to help people understand how to prepare for an evacuation for example. And, if you do get the call for an evacuation, make sure that you heed the warnings of your public safety officials. They are trying to save your life when they call for an evacuation. And, it just may very well do that.”