The burned-out perimeter of the Weber Fire, six miles southeast of Mancos has been impacted by the monsoonal rains, which has resulted in mudslides in some of the burned out areas.
“With the loss of much of the vegetation on Menefee Mountain and the surrounding landscape, the risk of flash floods and mudslides increase,” a news release from the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.
With the recent thunderstorms, some residents in the East Canyon and Weber Canyon area have already seen some flooding and mudslides.
The news release said that the ash and debris created by the fire that gets washed down inclines should end later in August; however, flooding can still be an issue for up to three years until vegetation has returned.
At about 6 p.m. Saturday, near the north end of East Canyon, Paul Hollar, deputy emergency manager with the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office, said an 18-inch wall of water washed through the front yard and foyer of a private residence.
Ten campers were also evacuated Sunday evening from a cabin at the lower end of East Canyon because of a mudslide that covered Montezuma County Road 46, preventing them from coming or going, he said.
And it could get worse. Meteorologist Jim Daniels out of the Grand Junction National Weather Service office, said over the next few days possible rains are predicted to be about one third of an inch a day, which could provide some minimal runoffs.
Daniels said heavier rain could fall starting this weekend and lasting into the early part of next week and predicted at least one-half of an inch of rain per day in the Mancos area.
He said the amount of rain is not the primary factor in mudslides occurring and instead depends on how heavy the rain falls in a short amount of time.
A monsoonal storm, like what is expected this weekend, he said, is capable of producing the type of precipitation that could cause mudslides, especially in burned out areas.
“It’s not so much the total amount of rain but how quickly it falls,” Daniels said.
Lt. Ted Meador with the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office said the campers had intermittent cellphone service and were able to contact emergency officials, who helped them evacuate.
Meador said two cars were missing that were apparently carried away in the mud flow. “What we think happened is the flash flood carried them into a ravine or somewhere, and they’re covered up by mud and ash,” Meador said earlier this week.
The 10,133-acre Weber Fire started June 22 about six miles south of Mancos and was declared fully contained at 6 p.m. Friday. The fire ran northeast up Weber and East canyons.
Daniels said debris flows are common after major wildfires. Fire destroys vegetation and leaves a layer of ash over the soils that help absorb runoff water. The ash prevents water from spreading out as it normally does, and instead helps collect the water into narrow channels. The ash flows are denser than water and can carry large rocks and other debris, said Chuck Jensen, a hydrologist who is doing an emergency stabilization plan for the Bureau of Land Management.
“The big thing is to stay safe and stay out of the water and get away from it,” he said. The biggest concern around the Weber Fire burn area was for homes on the southern end of East Canyon, Hollar said. Jensen has spoken to landowners about the dangers of flash flooding in the burn areas.
Mike Rich from the National Resource Conservation Service has also worked with residents and provided information on programs for reseeding and stabilization to help with possible flooding.
The news release provided the following tips for residents in the Weber Fire area:
Watch for short hard rain or substantial rain over a longer period
Watch for rapidly rising water in streams and rivers
Do not camp or recreate in known watersheds, gullies or ravines Do not drive through flooded areas even of the water looks shallow. The force of the water flow can force a vehicle off the road
If a vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and go to higher ground
Do not try to outrace a flood on foot, seek higher ground