During the past week, EC Alert subscribers have been warned of both fire and flood. Welcome to monsoon season in the Colorado high country.
Catastrophic wildland fires around the state during the past couple of years have greatly increased residents’ awareness of fire dangers, while last year’s massive flooding along the Front Range introduced the state to the notion that flash flooding doesn’t just affect narrow canyons.
“People think that flash flooding just happens close to a creek, but it’s a matter of the volume of rain. It can hit you just about anywhere,” said Barry Smith, Eagle County Emergency Management Director.
Earlier this week, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for central Colorado including the communities along the Interstate 70 corridor.
“We are in a monsoonal weather pattern which means rain. That’s not a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t all come at once,” said Smith.
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Move to higher ground
The NWS predicted a 60 percent chance of rain through the mid part of the week, with conditions drying out by the weekend. “We could get a fair amount of rain, and it’s all a matter of how fast the storm moves,” said Smith.
Complicating the risk is the fact that in Eagle County, and the western United States generally, the soil is typically dry, sandy and unable to absorb large amounts of water.
If rain descends in a massive dump, Smith said country residents should be prepared to move to higher ground. That can mean climbing a hillside or climbing the stairs.
If a flash flood hits a residential area, taking refuge upstairs is a good idea. However, Smith noted that homes located in more isolated areas or on steep hillsides may not be a good refuge. “Washes are called washes for a reason. They are where the rain goes,” he said.
Smith pointed to a large rainstorm that hit the Colorado River Road area a couple of years ago. The water cascaded down washes along hillsides, spilling debris and uprooted trees onto the roadway.
If flash flood conditions develop while someone is driving, Smith said its important to avoid standing water.
“There may be a sinkhole in the ground and in standing water, you don’t know how deep it is,” he said.
Barry noted that similar to a tornado warning, a flash flood warning doesn’t give residents a lot of time to act. That’s why it is important to make sure to head for safety as soon as a warning is issued.
While this week’s weather attention is focused on flooding, as always fire is a real local danger. Last Saturday, EC Alert advised that crews were on the scene of a wildland fire on Castle Peak.
“Typically by this time of the summer we have had at least 10 human-caused fires. So far this year, we have only had one,” said Smith.
There are no fire restrictions currently in place in Eagle County. “We base that (fire bans) on scientific factors,” Smith said. Local officials are keeping a close watch on conditions, but Smith noted they simply haven’t reached the point yet this summer where a fire ban is needed.
Smith noted that Colorado residents have become more educated about fire dangers from necessity. Recent fires, including the local examples, have taught state residents that even densely populated residential areas are vulnerable.
“You just can’t guarantee safety anywhere,” said Smith. “No one would have ever thought a fire could jump the railroad tracks, river and Interstate 70 before the Coal Seam and Storm King fires. Flying embers can go a long way.”
Smith promotes emergency preparedness for all county residents as the summer wanes and dry fall weather continues.
“Flooding and wildfire are the two biggest threats in Eagle County,” said Smith. “People need to remember that your property can be replaced, but your life can’t.”
For more information about flooding and fire dangers, emergency preparedness and to sign up to the EC Alert system, visit http://www.eaglecounty.us/emergency