Colorado’s July storms could cause flooding in fire-damaged areas | VailDaily.com

Colorado’s July storms could cause flooding in fire-damaged areas

Aldo Svaldi
The Denver Post

LA VETA, CO - JULY 8: The northern end of the Spring Creek Fire burns up a steep canyon on July 8, 2018 in La Veta, Colorado. The Spring Fire has now burned an area slightly larger than the city and county of Denver. The fire has burned 106,985 acres and currently stands at 55% containment. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post) (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Residents in fire zones across Colorado are being urged to take out flood insurance policies to protect themselves from landscapes stripped bare of vegetation.

"I know this is a tough message to hear right now. But, unfortunately, it's imperative for people to seriously think about buying flood insurance," interim Colorado Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway warned consumers in an advisory.

Nearly a third of the wildfires currently burning in the country are in Colorado. Summer thunderstorms can pop up at any time, and while they help put down fires, they can also create other problems if they dump a lot of rain in a short period.

Monsoonal moisture tends to start moving into Colorado in the second half of July. The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration is calling for above average precipitation in Utah and the western two-thirds of Colorado over the next three months.

Private insurance policies typically don't cover flooding, but property owners can apply for coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program. That federal program, however, has a 30-day waiting period before coverage kicks in, and Conway urged people to not delay.

County and local governments must meet requirement set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency before their residents can obtain federal flood insurance. A few places in Colorado, such as Grand and Custer counties, don't participate in the program.

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Costilla and Huerfano counties, where the Spring Creek fire is burning, are participants, as is the town of La Veta and the city of Walsenberg. Both La Plata and San Juan counties, impacted by the 416 and Burro fires, are covered, as are Silverton and Durango. Basalt and Eagle County, where the Lake Christine fire is burning, are both participants.

Low Amount of Coverage

More than 20 percent of flood claims come from properties outside high-risk flood zones. Premiums are lower in lower risk areas, but so too is coverage. Wildfires create added risk in areas normally not associated with flooding.

"Normally, vegetation absorbs rainfall, reducing runoff. However, wildfires leave the ground charred, barren and unable to absorb water, creating conditions ripe for flash flooding and mudflow. Flood risk remains significantly higher until vegetation is restored — up to five years after a wildfire, FEMA cautions on its website.

Property owners should contact their insurance agents about obtaining flood insurance or they can call the NFIP directly at 800-427-4661 or visit FloodSmart.gov, the insurance division advises.