1/10" rain could trigger Mitchell Creek debris flow | PostIndependent.com

1/10" rain could trigger Mitchell Creek debris flow

About 100 citizens heard a chilling prediction Thursday night.

The next storm that drops a mere one-tenth of an inch of rain on Mitchell Creek will cause flooding and mud flows that will be worse than anyone who lives there has ever seen.

And people will have about 15 minutes to clear out of their homes, said Andrea Holland-Sears, a hydrologist with the White River National Forest and the Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation team.

“There’s not going to be a lot of time to respond. We think 15 minutes. It’s important to be aware of what the weather is doing,” Holland-Sears said. “The magnitude of the flooding will depend on the rain intensity and how much falls in a certain time.

“The flooding will be five to 10 times more than what you have seen in the past,” she said.

The news was delivered at a community meeting Thursday evening at Glenwood Springs High School hosted by local law enforcement and emergency response agencies, county government, and various federal agencies involved in the Coal Seam Fire.

The BAER team spent the last week evaluating potential for flooding and mud flows in Mitchell Creek, at the base of Red Mountain and in South Canyon.

The main focus of concern is Mitchell Creek, said Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri.

He laid out an emergency preparedness plan that will come into play if, or when, such a rainstorm is imminent.

“The potential damage (from a flood and mud flow) could exceed the fire. Although the fire moved quickly, we were able to keep ahead of it,” he said.

But that may not be the case with a major flood, he added.

The trick, Dalessandri said, will be to follow the weather closely, to know when a storm is likely to bring the threshold amount of rain, and to get the word out.

If he determines residents need to be evacuated, sheriff’s deputies and local police will go door to door with the evacuation order. But unlike the evacuation that took place on the first day of the Coal Seam Fire on June 8, residents will also be notified by the newly installed Reverse 911 system.

The system allows telephone notification of 1,100 residents in one minute in a given geographic area.

But it has its limitations.

“It’s not a perfect system,” Dalessandri said. “You must remove blocks and telezappers.”

Reverse 911 will not ring through call blocking or through devices that block telemarketing calls.

In addition, two air horns will be installed in Mitchell Creek, one above the fish hatchery and one lower down, Dalessandri said. The exact location of the lower horn has not yet been determined.

He also urged people to be ready to evacuate, to cooperate with law enforcement in the event of an evacuation and to keep an eye on the weather.

“At any given moment we could have weather develop” that could trigger flooding, Dalessandri said.

Besides an emergency plan, the county is also at work on a plan to lessen the damage to homes from flooding. Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist Dennis Davidson said he will work with individuals to develop specific plans and can provide some financial aid.

Among the measures residents could take are constructing diversion channels behind houses to deflect mud flows.

People at Thursday night’s meeting, many of whom were Mitchell Creek residents, worried about burned debris choking the creek channel, and burned appliances near destroyed homes that could be washed downstream in a flood.

“When will they clear up the channel?” one man asked.

“It’s been 18 days (since the fire), how much more time do you need?” another man asked.

County commissioner John Martin explained a meeting is set for today to plan for the channel clearing and protective measures.

Also attending Thursday night’s meeting were representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and local volunteer organizations which offer assistance to those in need.

For those who missed the meeting, it is being broadcast on cable Channel 12 in Glenwood Springs.

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