Heavy rain brings down mud, debris from 416 Fire burn area

Thursday, July 26, 2018 2:58 PM
Mike Glowac looks at storm clouds while checking out the flooding and debris that flowed around his house Tuesday afternoon along U.S. Highway 550, after heavy rain fell over the 416 Fire burn area north of Durango. A flash-flood watch is in effect for the burn area Wednesday afternoon and evening.

HERMOSA – Tuesday’s skies unleashed a torrent of rain in the north Animas Valley, a second bite from a monsoon season made frightful by the 416 Fire.

Water a foot deep flowed around the Country Sunshine Bed & Breakfast off of U.S. Highway 550.

About 800 passengers with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad had their train ride cut short at Rockwood. They were eventually bused back to Durango.

Mike Glowac, who lives near Honeyville, watched pallets, probably from Honeyville, float by his yard.

Despite the havoc that hit properties, no injuries were reported from debris flows that closed Highway 550 as well as County Road 250, County Road 250C and County Road 203.

The roads, which began shutting down around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, were all reopen around 6:30 p.m.

Christian Robbins, spokesman for the D&SNG, said the storms caught the train in a better location than last week. Passengers were transferred to buses at the Rockwood station to complete the return trip to Durango.

When flooding occurred last week, the train was stranded near Shalona Hill and passengers had to hike to the highway to get to buses.

“It was a pretty big flood,” he said. “But it’s way too early to determine the damage to the tracks.”

The railroad is suspending steam train service through at least Thursday because of damage to the tracks.

By 4:10 p.m., all roads north of Trimble Lane were closed, including Highway 550, County Road 203 and County Road 250, and La Plata Electric Association cut power in the Animas Valley as a preventive safety measure.

La Plata County opened an evacuation center at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, and it is scheduled to reopen at 7 a.m. Wednesday, according to a tweet from La Plata County Search and Rescue.

“We had water flowing around the house at least 1 foot deep,” said Norma Byrd at the Country Sunshine Bed & Breakfast off the frontage road near mile marker 34 on Highway 550.

A guest somehow managed to reach the bed and breakfast after being trapped between two slides, she said.

“It was spectacular to hear the river come through. It was not deep, but it was wide, about 30 feet wide,” Byrd said. “The rain was torrential, worse than last week,” she said.

Glowac, the Honeyville neighbor, said the irrigation ditch that flows near his house overflowed, and he has a big cleanup job ahead of him, but his house was not damaged.

“A lot of coal, ash and burnt logs came down and some weird foam, pretty gross,” he said.

Rain was pretty consistent, he said. Then, it hailed, and that was followed by more rain.

“I didn’t notice anything first. Then pallets started floating by my yard. I think they were from Honeyville,” he said.

Kaylee Leidal and her husband, Brian, bought their house on County Road 250 in April.

Last week, mud caused significant damage to the interior of their home, which is across the street from the KOA Campground, which also flooded.

“We need to replace our entire first floor flooring and likely some of our drywall,” she said.

It rained for about 20 minutes Tuesday before debris flows hit that lasted for 7 to 8 minutes, she said.

To get Highway 550 reopened, Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Transportation, said at least two major clearing operations had to be completed.

About 6 feet of boulders, rock and mud blocked Highway 550 near Honeyville, and near the Animas Village Apartments, 1 foot of debris covered the highway.

Butch Knowlton, director of La Plata County Emergency Preparedness, said floods and debris flows again hit the KOA Campground and the Animas Village Apartments, formerly the Whispering Pine Apartments.

The first warning of the deluge to come came around 2 p.m. when a flash-flood warning was issued by the National Weather Service for the 416 Fire burn area. A flash-flood warning means flooding is imminent or occurring.

During the downpour, the Durango Fire Protection District told residents they should shelter in place if their property was flooding.

DFPD firefighters were attempting to respond to the area, prioritizing the most serious calls first, but crews were hampered by road closures.

Linda Jones, a resident of the Animas Village Apartments on Highway 550, said a wall of mud was flowing by her home and it was hailing at about 2:30 p.m.

“Our cars are flooded; we have no way out,” she said. Mud was also flowing across Highway 550, blocking her exit.

She estimated that several hundred people were stranded at the apartments until the roads reopened.

Jones said she lives in a top-floor apartment and could see the mud flowing into the homes on the bottom level.

She received a Code Red alert from La Plata County about the potential flooding, but she did not have enough time to leave.

Mike Charnick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said rain and the possibility of more flooding and debris flows remain in the forecast for Wednesday.

A flash-flood watch is in effect for the 416 Fire burn area Wednesday afternoon and Wednesday evening.