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Flooding concerns rise after West Fork fires

Posted: Thursday, Jul 25th, 2013

SOUTH FORK—With things beginning to return to normal after the lifting of evacuations and road closures because of the West Fork Fire Complex, danger remains in the Valley. The public is encouraged not to become complacent.

Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team coordinator, Phil Reinholtz, addressed audience members gathered at the South Fork Fire Department building for a joint meeting with the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team (RWEACT) on Monday, July 15.

“We have been fortunate so far and have not had a major rain down on the upper Rio Grande,” said Reinholtz.

Hinsdale, Mineral and Rio Grande counties are all at risk for flash flooding due to loss of ground vegetation in areas upstream because of the fires. The soil in burned areas can be as water repellent as pavement which increases the chances of debris flow. Water quality is also of major concern because the increased chances of turbidity from ash and debris in the event of heavy rain.

The objectives of the BAER and RWEACT teams are to implement an immediate notification plan to inform the public of impending danger from flooding. This would include a system of radar, on the ground monitors and water flow gauging stations at key intersections of roads and bridges. This is all currently in the works and is not yet established.

The BAER team will also work to reduce the threat of downstream flooding, erosion and debris movement.

Additional objectives are to reduce the threat to critical wildlife habitat, protect remaining USDA Forest Service infrastructure and to reduce the threat of tree fall along roads to maintain critical access.

BAER also encourages private landowners to contact and work with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to prepare for the indirect effects of the fire such as flooding and debris flow. More information can be found at: http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/

Education of the public as to the potential dangers and how to prepare for a possible event due to monsoonal downpours is high on the priority list.

It is important to know what to expect in the event of a torrential downpour, not just in the immediate area, but upstream. Know the area and the flood risk posed based on location of streams and rivers.

The public is highly encouraged to sign up for DELTA ALERTS through www.slve911.org so that they may receive text messages on their cell phones and emails that will alert to possible dangers due to flash flooding or any other emergency that may arise in the Valley.

Listen to local radio stations for warnings and alerts. To be certain of receiving weather alerts - invest in a NOAA approved weather radio (Area MHZ Station - 162.475)

Websites to visit: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/com/weatherreadynation/wea.html#.Udr0jjvbP3U or mobile.weather.gov

Research flood insurance for properties as the 30 day waiting period may be waived because of the emergency situation regarding the fires having been declared.

Dan Dallas, USFS, said all the things that have happened in past two weeks have been amazing.

“This BAER Team is no different than the incident management fire team as far as delegation of authority,” said Dallas. “However, they are used to a different progression of events. Usually, once they hit the ground running, the train leaves the station and other people are left trying to catch up to them.”

Dallas said there is a difference with the present situation in the Valley.

“Our train left the station before they got here,” said Dallas. “We have all this energy going on now with RWEACT and now BAER is here and their job is to produce a report so we can get started on a plan for rehabilitating NFS lands.”

Rehabilitation of the forest through replanting of groundcover and trees will greatly reduce the potential for catastrophic runoff due to torrential downpour.

For more information contact:

www.nifc.gov/BAER/Page/NIFC BAER.html, www.fema.gov, www.weather.gov, www.rweact.org, www.nrcs.usda.gov

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