Preparing for flood waters after the 2013 West Fork Fire

By the San Juan National Forest Burned Area Emergency Response Team

Special to The SUN

The burned areas within the West Zone of the West Fork Fire have suffered vegetation loss, particularly loss of ground cover, litter and duff.

Some of the burned soils may repel water more than normal.

These factors combine to create an increased risk of flash flooding, debris flows and water quality impacts within and downstream of the burned area.

Until the vegetation in the area recovers, the ability of natural barriers is limited to slow or stop runoff from coming down the canyon. These conditions may persist for an extended period of time through this summer and fall and into spring 2014.

Know what to expect

• Know your area’s flood risk based on your proximity to streams.

• Listen to the local radio station for bulletins. Sign up to receive alerts from the National Weather Service.

• If it has been raining in the West Fork of the San Juan River upstream from the community, be alert to the possibility of a flood.

• The greatest flooding potential will be during short duration, high intensity rain storms such as summer thunderstorms.

• During the first storms, ash will be washed off the burned area and the water in the West Fork and San Juan rivers will turn black or dark brown.

• There may be a coating of black ash along the bed and banks of the streams.

• Sediment will also be washed off the burned area into the streams, changing the color of the water to brown and increasing turbidity.

• Burned trees and rocks may also be washed down the West Fork of the San Juan River. Most of these will deposit where the stream gradient decreases south of the West Fork Road.

• Debris, such as logs and sticks, may pile up against obstructions in the river such as bridges, culverts and ditch diversions.

When a flash flood begins

• Move to higher ground away from rivers, streams, creeks and storm drains.

• Do not drive or walk through flooded areas.

• Be alert for bridges or culverts that may be washed out.

• Stay away from downed power lines and electrical wires. Electrical current passes easily through water. Contact La Plata Electric Association if you notice downed power lines.

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This story was posted on July 3, 2013.